Sheryl Sandberg - What would you do if you weren't afraid?
The idea of living life and making decisions without fear appears to be just that, an “idea”, when it comes to today’s female professionals. If Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is to be believed, women tend to self-sabotage and contribute to their own slow growth [or lack thereof] , thereby adding mettle to the attempts of those around them who believe in the archaic theory of a woman’s place being at home, in the kitchen, rather than in an office. The need to dispel this fear, which is highlighted by Sandberg in her best-selling book, “Lean In”, challenges women as potential destroyers of their careers, and shifts the blame off the shoulders of the male population onto the females who have accepted dismissal, and the trivialization of their contributions over the years.
Fear of what, and of whom, one might ask curiously. Some women have taken umbrage to Sandberg’s theories and have accused her of speaking from the vantage point of a woman born into privilege, who can afford the resources and staff to be able to follow her own “rules” of balancing career with family life. However, Sandberg is quick to respond to this criticism by stating that she does not intend to cause offence to those not in high positions, given how pointless that would be; only 14% of high positions within the corporate world are occupied by women, therefore addressing this minority would be an exercise in futility. Instead she hopes to impact the new generation of future female leaders, who are currently hesitant as she was, about whether or not to take on professional roles, or stick to what is expected of them; marriage and the life of a homemaker.
In an Indian context, one could relate to a number of points brought up by Sandberg during interviews where she is quizzed about her uniqueness; she is considered as being a role model for the modern working woman and mother who makes it part of her daily schedule to spend time with her family and goes that extra mile to ensure that she does not neglect them in her quest for professional success. Sheryl Sandberg has no qualms about sharing her teething troubles with juggling dual roles; being a mother and one of the pillars of her multi-billion dollar company. She carries a lice detector in her work bag along with other work paraphernalia, and is unashamed about leaving work on time to be at the dinner table with her two daughters and husband. Sandberg is fearless about her dual roles, and effective at juggling them both with panache.
The socially-constructed shame that surrounds women and their multiple roles must be done away with immediately, and one of the barriers to that change, lies within the mindsets and fear-ridden mentality of the women themselves. Women need to realize that they are equally, if not more capable of multi-tasking and juggling than men, once again this is not to bring about pointless comparisons between abilities on the basis of gender; this is merely bringing forward the “fear” factor where ambition is a positive word when used to describe a man, and negative when it describes a woman. “We have got to stop calling our daughters “bossy”, or calling women aggressive at work. Break down the stereotype, nobody says that about men”, says Sandberg. It is actually a matter of pride that women are able to conceive, give birth to a new life, that is something to be proud of, and not ashamed.
The challenging sphere of professional life should not deter a woman, regardless of whether she is single, married or pregnant. The challenges which currently exist are women-unfriendly atmospheres which do not respect one of many roles of a woman; that of her potential to give birth. Rather than be put off by this, it is time for women to shake off their fear, sit at the table and demand their rights. Rather than be fearful of a “future” where they “might” get married and their families “might not approve” of their professional careers, it is time for women to take a stand for themselves and say “this is my life, and I have the right to excel at work and at home”.
The fear of not attaining the standards set by a mostly-male workforce need to be addressed, not accepted. The fear of “what will society think” and “I am neglecting my motherly/wifely duties” needs to be ended once and for all. Women are powerful, and they have Rights. It is high time that they wake up and channel their inner strength towards achieving their dreams; whether this is involves becoming the next COO of Facebook, or simply, a mother who works and makes ample time to take care of her family with 100% support from her husband. Equality should be attained, and not feared, and once the many societal chains are broken by women, they will find there are numerous successful jugglers like Sheryl Sandberg among them, she will no longer be a rare, lone voice, struggling to state the obvious to millions of potential female leaders.