Lean In �" One Half Of The Equation

Carolyn Leighton

March 20, 2013

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Lean In �" One Half Of The Equation

Many of us have been reading with great interest the articles and media coverage of Sheryl Sandberg and her book "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead".

The fact that Sandberg has leveraged her position as COO of Facebook to increase awareness about important issues that continue to surround women in the workplace has generated important conversations about these issues.

As a woman who has actively worked for more than 3 decades to raise the visibility of the contributions of women in science, business and technology, I completely agree that recognizing the value we bring to the table in ourselves and in each other is critical; however, I also know how the best and the brightest can be completely disengaged when their innovation and contributions are blocked by outdated attitudes, policies and strangling organizational models.

Companies continue to lose some of their best and brightest employees when they realize their contributions are not valued, and feel forced to leave and start their own companies.

Transformation does not occur in a vacuum, and, at the same time we work on ourselves, we must examine the link between the role women play in companies and the organizational models which were formed and continue to operate around how men work and compete. This is the other half of the equation.

Compelling Data: A recent Catalyst study found higher financial performance for companies with higher representation of women board directors in three important measures:

  • Return on Equity: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent.

  • Return on Sales: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 42 percent.

  • Return on Invested Capital: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 percent.

  • Additional information about the catalyst study can be found here: http://bit.ly/ZxTvDI

    Here are some questions for Sheryl Sandberg and all the smart women and men out there:

    If you were CEO of a major corporation today, given the technology and workforce available today, how would you design your corporate model to achieve an optimal environment designed to increase the contributions of your employees �" male and female;

    Do companies really get that this is a bottom line business issue? Is that how their leaders frame it? How can we move the conversation out of Diversity and Inclusion to a strategic business imperative?

    What can companies do to allow women to work and excel? What can they stop doing that's getting in the way?

    Do the policies and norms within our organizations facilitate or inhibit women's contributions? For example, how many hours would be in a workday, and would people be working at home or at the company?

    Since the data indicates women and men do think and work differently, how would you design environments to support those differences? Are we treating everyone equally and the same - or, everyone equally and differently to capitalize on their differences?

    What questions would you like to ask the CEO running the companies you work for?

    What barriers exist for women within your organization? How do we know they exist - exit interviews, dearth of women in executive roles? How can we eradicate them?

    Is our organization truly a meritocracy, where the best and brightest rise to the top - or are there systems, behaviors and beliefs that (subtly or overtly, intentionally or "unconsciously") subvert an equal playing field?

    Do women have equal access to the sponsors and critical networks that are so pivotal for visibility and advancement as their male counterparts?

    Please take a few minutes to share your experiences or just let us know what you think here

    Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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