Working For Gender Equality: 3 Valuable Lessons From 'Lean In'

by Emma
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It goes without saying: I am a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, former Vice President at Google and all-around powerhouse role model for young people everywhere.

Published in March 2013, "Lean In" is a book about women, work and leadership. During the summer between my junior and senior year of university, I decided to give it a read -- and did it ever change my perspective on how to approach my career as a young woman.

While the quotability of "Lean In" is off the charts, I pulled three lessons I found most valuable as a new grad:

Own your success.

Women are more likely to attribute their success to luck. While most people’s success is often achieved with a bit of luck, it is imperative that women, like many men, take ownership of their success as a product of their own initiative and hard work.

Most men would never say they got where they are because they’re “lucky,” so women need to make a departure from the habit of playing down their successes because they don’t want to come across as over-confident or intimidating.

“Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception. It is easy to dislike senior women because there are so few.”

I have often been told I come across as intimidating because of my accomplishments and drive to succeed. For much of my undergraduate career, I made the mistake of saying I was lucky to have achieved what I had.

At the beginning of my senior year of university, however, I decided to change my own narrative. Yes, I was blessed with opportunity, but I had worked tremendously hard to take full advantage of every opportunity that came my way – creating my own where none existed – in order to succeed in the fashion I had.

People get lucky, but it is whether or not you have the work ethic to see through the opportunities you are given that determines a powerhouse leader. 

Take on the job hunt “like a man.”

Women tend to apply to jobs where they fit 100 percent of the hiring criteria; whereas, men continue to apply to jobs where they fit closer to 75 percent, the expectation being whatever they don’t know, they will learn on the job.

This difference in job hunting tactics is based largely on the fact that women are consistently hired based on their past experience and successes, while men are often hired based on their potential to succeed.

“Women need to shift from thinking 'I'm not ready to do that' to thinking 'I want to do that' - and I'll learn by doing it.”

I made it my goal to apply for jobs straight out of university like one of my male colleagues would.

I applied to jobs with titles that exceeded my experience level because I had the transferrable experience (both professional and extracurricular), and I knew I had the potential to pick up what skills I was lacking in a professional environment.

Compared to peers (of both genders) who did not follow this practice, my job hunt was much more far-reaching and, surprisingly, well met by hiring managers who were impressed by my experience and chutzpah, alike.

I secured interviews for management and supervisory-level positions because, at 21, I valued both my experience and potential for growth.

My confidence obviously paid off because I landed what I like to call my “20-something dream job” before I even walked across the stage at convocation to receive my degree. (Thanks, Sheryl!)

Never, under any circumstances, put your hand down.

One of the most poignant themes from "Lean In," is that women are less likely than men to keep their hand raised.

This point was driven home by the anecdote of a speaker who, after saying he would be taking no further questions (women had lowered their raised hands), continued to take questions from men who refused to lower their hands because they still felt they had something to add.

“If we want a world with greater equality, we need to acknowledge that women are less likely to keep their hands up.”

If we wish to command an equal voice in the workplace, women need to keep their hands raised, just like their male counterparts are more likely to do in situations similar to the one described.

If you feel you have something valuable to add, you should, by all means, share your thoughts, suggestions and ideas. Just because you’re told it’s time to put your hand down doesn’t mean you have to oblige while your peers continue to push the envelope.

Every contribution has value, and you need to make sure yours is heard.