I’m still so obsessed with the Sheryl Sandberg Lean In movement. When she first published her book in 2013, I was at a turning point in my career. I’ve read it many times since then and learn new nuggets of knowledge with every page turn.
Before I left for vacation, I stocked up on beach reads from my local library. Sheryl is my career crush, so I’ve compiled my top ten takeaways from her book because it has truly changed how I approach my career. Work-life balance is something I sometimes struggle with, and I used to constantly worry about how to care for my non-existent children while working a fulltime job. Sheryl breaks it all down in her book with straight forward and logical advice that will have you shouting, “YAAASSS!” If you’re the one person who hasn’t read Lean In, get yourself to the nearest bookstore immediately.
- Sit at the table. Literally. Be early to meetings and sit at the front of the room. If a VP, or the meeting leader, arrives and sits somewhere else, you get up and move closer to them. Lay out your notebook, your pen, your laptop – sit up straight, take up space, and contribute to the conversation. You don’t have to be an expert on the topic, but if you attempt to join the discussion and provide your unique insight, that VP will notice and will remember that you were engaged. Brownie points are real.
- Raise your hand and keep it up. Do you have something to say in a meeting? On a phone call? Do you have a question? Raise your hand and keep it up. Do not let the discussion end until you are heard. You may experience that men (and sometimes unkind and insecure women) will disregard your comment or question, but will gladly entertain a male counterpart. That is bullshit. Do not let that meeting end or hang up the phone until you say what you need to say or have the information you need to do your job. Never, ever be afraid to speak up – for yourself or for a fellow female colleague.
- Find a mentor. Do you want to get ahead and fast? Find a mentor. Not only can a mentor provide guidance and coaching as you maneuver your career, they can also vouch for you if you’re in the same organization. My mentor was also my manager at the time, and he paved the way for me to progress within my company very quickly. Seek out a relationship with someone you trust, who has shared interests, and who is sincerely interested in your success. Let it be organic, and do not try to force a mentorship. Ask the universe to put the right mentor in your path, and it will happen at the right time (like dating, but less awkward). Be clear about your goals for a mentorship before you seek out a mentor. Senior leaders do not have time to bother with some girl who can’t get it together. If you excel first, others will notice and take interest in seeing you grow.
- Get a dude on your side. The beautiful thing about the “millennial” generation is that they embrace diversity. They focus less on color/gender/whatever and more on what you can bring to the table. Start the conversation about female equality with a male co-worker that you can trust. Ask him to speak up on your behalf if your comment or question is ignored in a meeting. When you’re interrupted in a discussion and Tim says, “Bill, I’d like to hear more from Lisa on that point,” Bill will shut his mouth. It sounds contradictory, but we have to start somewhere. Females need to promote females, but so do males.
- Set your home life straight. I’m single with no children, so my only responsibility right now is to make sure I have clean underwear and eat. Honestly, I still struggle to devote myself to an 8-hour workday, in addition to my extracurriculars, the gym, a social life, and keeping my home clean (I can only imagine how working mothers manage their day). Enlist help from your husband, boyfriend, or roommate to take on half of the household duties or else you will lose your shit. There have been days that I worked all day, then cooked and cleaned when I got home, and the night always ends in tears due to utter exhaustion. I often feel like I must “do it all.” You are a badass, but you are not Superwoman (because that bish does not exist). Ask for help, prioritize what’s truly important, and if the dishes don’t get washed, no one dies. Chill.
- Say “yes” to more. This has been great advice that I’ve taken to heart recently. So many women turn down opportunities because they fear they won’t have time to manage additional responsibilities that do not yet exist. Why are you obsessing over a fulltime job, board memberships, charity commitments, community involvement, a social calendar, planning your wedding, and how you’ll get the kids to soccer and ballet when you don’t even have a boyfriend and zero offspring? I’m obviously an advocate for planning ahead, but you have no indication of what the future holds. If you’re excited about a new job or project that is right now, then say “yes” right now.
- Assemble a work tribe. Women are complex creatures. We often feel insecure and inferior in the presence of other women. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but we need to focus more on building other ladies up instead of tearing them down. Promote other women that you work with and commit to advocate for those whose talents and skills go unnoticed. Build a support system of female co-workers, so you can share in one another’s challenges and triumphs. Together, women accomplish amazing things.
- Negotiate. Negotiating can be nerve-wrecking; but it’s an absolute must to get what you want. You can negotiate for anything: your salary, benefits (e.g. extra time off), your workload, whatever. I recently negotiated for a hefty salary; my voice was shaking, and I had difficulty making eye contact. I walked in prepared with my talking points and pie charts (okay, no actual pie charts). I had a number in mind, but asked for more, and guess what? I got something in between what I asked for and what I was willing to settle for. Never be afraid to negotiate. A man would never take the first offer and neither should you. Step our of your comfort zone, and ask for more.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. It’s a double standard, but if a man is assertive at work, he’s a leader; if a women is assertive, ever, she’s a b-word. Your behavior and how you react to certain situations on the job is crucial. Keep tears to a minimum, smile, and be warm. You can still lead while being fierce and feminine at the same time. Otherwise, people will hate you or assume you’re “too manly” with your pant suits. It’s stupid, but it’s the world we live in, sisters. Let start changing the world, which leads me to my final point.
- Stop judging. I used to look down on stay-at-home moms whose only job was to care for kids. My assumption was that their life was easy and they had no idea what hard work consisted of – managers, meetings, deadlines, and demanding clients; their sole concern was a dirty diaper! As mentioned in #7, women need to support one another. If someone chooses to stay at home to care for children, that’s her purgative. If you work fulltime and employ a nanny or your mother-in-law to watch your kids, also your purgative. Not everyone wants to work, and not everyone wants to be president of the elementary school PTO. Some want both. Some want neither. Just do you, boo.