Ladies, come sit at the table
I am exactly 38 pages in and I am held in rapture. By Sheryl Sandberg, that is. Granted, I probably have not yet gotten to the juiciest parts of her bestselling book ‘Lean In’ yet, and therefore arguably not in the position to write this. But I don’t care. Because the chapter I just read – titled ‘Sit At The Table’ – resonated with me so strongly I simply have to put something down on paper.
As the current Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, and ex-VP of Global Online Sales and Operations of Google as well as ex-Chief of Staff at the US Department of Treasury, one could safely say that Sheryl Sandberg epitomizes the notion of professional success. In 2011, Forbes ranked Sheryl as the fifth most powerful woman in the world. For your information, that put her in front of Michelle Obama. No big deal.
Sheryl did not buy a bar of it. At least, not in the beginning. Every person that came forth to congratulate her was met with her critical dismissal that Forbes’ list was, quite simply, ‘ridiculous’. She says she felt exposed, embarrassed, suddenly thrust into a global microscopic examination of her ‘cans’ and ‘cannots’ that she was not prepared for. The world was ready to propel Sheryl into the limelight, but her constant underestimation of her capabilities kept her tucked away in the dark, where her self-doubt thought she ought to belong.
Sheryl’s experience of what is coined the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is not uncommon amongst high achievers. The nagging fear of being found out that one is utterly underqualified for what they do appears to be a common thread amongst both male and female. Except, as aptly pointed out by Sheryl, the fear affects and limits women much more that it does men. This fear can often dictate a woman’s choice of diction, where she attributes her professional success to luck, help from others and being in the right place at the right time, rather than to ambition and innate ability. This underestimation of skill and worth means that women are more likely to step aside and offer their seats up in the Board Room to someone they consider more ‘senior’ and ‘experienced’. It means that the female voice is lost from top tiers of leadership because we choose not to put ourselves forward in the first place.
Admittedly, it was a little uncomfortable to read Sheryl’s alarmingly frank observations. It’s equally, if not more uncomfortable to reiterate them back to you. The idea that we are complicit in being held back in our growth, be it professional or personal, is painfully confrontational. But I hear growing pains are good for you, nonetheless.
Where do these confrontations get us? We at Kerridge & Partners do not claim to have all the answers. However, we have engaged with many female leaders and leaders-to-be who have prepared thoroughly and risen to the occasion. Many of those have gone on to be movers and shakers of our country and beyond.
Given this, we have learned a thing or two during the ten years we have been in the business of leadership. For women, that is – learn to embrace the discomfort that comes with success, shed light on the darkness you keep yourself in, and most importantly keep your hand up and sit firm at the table. The rewards will be worth it.
Christine Deng & Vikki Maclean