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Optimum Talks Blog

Own It! – Being an Up and Coming Female Executive

by Megan Schwann
December 12, 2011

Not long ago a past colleague mailed me (yes, through real snail mail) a newspaper clipping with a yellow Post-It that read “This reminded me of you!”.  The Globe & Mail article “Women, power and the imposter syndrome”, written by Margaret Wente, was a quick and insightful statement about women in the workplace, and our innate ability to underestimate and sabotage ourselves. Most importantly though, the article introduced me to Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and her refreshing message to young women early in their careers… “own it”.

Now, let’s pause to highlight the massive career crush I have here. Prior to Facebook, Sandberg graduated with distinction from Harvard Business School and rose to the top with roles at the World Bank, McKinsey & Company, the United States Treasury Department and Google. Not to mention, she sits on the Board of Starbucks, The Walt Disney Company and Women for Women International (just to name a few).  Seriously. Huge. Career. Crush.

There is no question that Corporate Canada continues to struggle with gender equality in the workplace, particularly at the top. Statistics Canada recently reported that from 1987 – 2009, the proportion of women in senior management positions has virtually flatlined.  We aren’t improving as much as we’d like to believe.

It’s clear that corporations have work to do in bridging this equality gap. Things like offering more flexible work arrangements, mentoring programs, and utilizing best practices for hiring are helping to bridge this gap, as well as making it feasible for both women and men to achieve their personal and professional goals.  Over time, I believe we will see the results of these initiatives come to fruition and have a positive impact. But what is unclear, is what I can do today to beat the statistics. Even as society and corporations change in the years, decades or centuries to come, these solutions will likely come too late for me to benefit. So, what can I do about it now?

As a female in a new management role, with lofty professional and personal goals, I can’t help but wonder if the two P’s are impossible to achieve simultaneously. I’m not alone. I have a circle of female friends all bound on great career paths – a television news producer, a successful owner operator of a growing and well known event management company, an early learning program coordinator who’s classroom is modeled around our province, and several other career driven types. We are all facing the same reality – the statistics are against us (remember the flatline results) and we need to control and create our own solutions.

Sandberg offers honest, refreshing and manageable advice to young women in the workforce. Her message comes in three candid and simple bites, all within our reach.

  1. Sit at the table. We need to represent ourselves. Start reaching and believing in ourselves, negotiating harder for ourselves, and attributing our success to ourselves, not others.  Sandberg reminds us that no one ever gets to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines.
  2. Make your partner a real partner. According to one study of married couples with children both employed full-time, women are still tackling twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare. In those households where the housework and childcare is split down the middle we see the divorce rate cut in half… there are benefits to equality! We need to pair ourselves with equal partners.
  3. Don’t leave before you leave.  Many of us fail to keep our foot on the proverbial gas pedal when we see change on the horizon. The mere thought of tackling our personal fulfillment goals sends us into a mode of “leaning back” – not taking on new projects, and not pushing our limits professionally. We need to stay focused and “in the game” until the very end.

As young women in the workforce, we have a choice to be passive or proactive.  If we all begin to own our successes and our path towards them, we can and will accelerate the change.

Start by owning it.


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