Lean Out
eBook - ePub

Lean Out

The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace

Marissa Orr

  1. 240 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
  4. Disponibile su iOS e Android
eBook - ePub

Lean Out

The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace

Marissa Orr

Dettagli del libro
Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti

Informazioni sul libro

Girl gangs reigning terror at Facebook, narcissistic overlords at Google... this is the backdrop of Lean Out, which takes readers on the journey of Marissa Orr, a single mom of three trying to find success in her fifteen-year career at the world's top tech giants. Orr delivers an ambitious attempt to answer the critical question: What have we gotten wrong about women at work?

"This book is a must-read for insights on the impact that reversing systemic gender biases can have on creating more diverse, healthier workplaces for both women and men."

--Joanne Harrell, Senior Director, USA Citizenship, Microsoft

"This book will make you think differently about what it will take for women to succeed at the highest levels in American business."

--Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer, Publicis Groupe

Lean Out offers a new and refreshingly candid perspective on what it's really like for today's corporate underdogs. Based on both in-depth research and personal experiences, Orr punctures a gaping hole in today's feminist rhetoric and sews it back up with compelling new arguments for the reasons more women don't make it to the top and how companies can better incentivize women by actually listening to what they have to say and by rewarding the traits that make them successful.

In Lean Out, Orr uncovers:

  • Why our pursuit to close the gender gap has come at the expense of female well-being.
  • The need to redefine success and change the way corporations choose their leaders.
  • The way most career advice books targeting professional women seek to change their behavior rather than the system.
  • Why modern feminism has failed to make any progress on its goals for equality.

More than fifty years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the wage gap still hovers at 80 percent, and only 5 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women. Today, rising up the ranks in many companies still often means cutthroat, win-at-all-costs tactics, where being the loudest voice in the room is more important than being the person with the best ideas for moving the company forward. Not surprisingly, most women don't want to play this game.

An everyday working woman with a sardonic sense of humor, Orr is an endearing antihero who captures the voice for a new generation of women at work. Lean Out presents a revolutionary path forward, to change the life trajectories of women in the corporate world and beyond.

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It’s hard to go against the beliefs of powerful people. Therefore, for each of us, as difficult as it may be to accept, reality has a lot to do with what a lot of us or some important or powerful people say it is.
“Raise your hand if you were called bossy growing up.”
This was the first thing Sheryl Sandberg said as she took the stage in front of two hundred women at a female leadership breakfast in Detroit. Her comment wasn’t delivered with the curious tone you’d expect from someone genuinely interested in the answer. Rather, it was said with an expectant nod and knowing look, as if she were really saying, “I know you hated being called bossy as much as I did, so raise your freaking hand!” Which is ironic because she was being kinda bossy about it.
Slumped in the seat next to me, my friend Jackie half-heartedly raised her hand. Knowing for certain she’d never been called bossy a day in her life, I turned to her and rolled my eyes. With a look of confusion, she crouched down low, cupped her hand over her mouth, and whispered, “What? What did she even say? I wasn’t listening.”
Sandberg went on to make the point that women are punished for being assertive at work. They are accused of being bossy or too pushy, whereas men who assert themselves are seen as leaders. As a result, we mute ourselves, lower our ambition, and give men the advantage.
Jackie’s chronic lack of assertiveness at work could easily be seen as evidence of Sandberg’s point. But it wasn’t, because it was due to something much simpler than social conditioning. Like so many of us, Jackie didn’t care enough about her job to be demanding about it.
After the day of empowering lectures on how to be more like men your best self, Jackie and I went out for margaritas. As we plopped ourselves down on a couple of barstools, I asked her why Sandberg talked about bossiness so much.
“Because she’s bossy. And she probably gets a lot of shit for it.”
“I get that, but I don’t know many other women who struggle with that kind of thing. Why do we always talk about it so much at these women’s events?”
“Because bossy people are in charge of them.”
Oh, right.
During countless conversations with my girlfriends over the years, we complained about almost everything. Being ashamed of our bossiness was perhaps #827 on the list. You know what was way higher? Being bullied by senior women who felt threatened by other females. That was something I never heard discussed openly, even though it was such a central challenge for many of us. Just bring up the subject among professional female friends, and the conversation can last until the third glass of wine. (We’ll get to this in more detail later—the secret bullying, not the secret alcoholism.) Number 4 on the list: we were already the CEOs of our households and often felt unappreciated for our efforts, so we were ambivalent about seeking promotions; it seemed like more responsibility for even less acknowledgment.
At Google and Facebook, the gender gap was a hot topic, with a lot of involvement from senior leaders. But across their dozens of women’s leadership events over the years, we rarely addressed any of these important issues. Because the events were high-profile, they were coopted by opportunists who sounded more like corporate cheerleaders giving hollow stump speeches than like people who were interested in solving a real problem. Most women’s initiatives devolved into platforms for visibility and a means to advance one’s career rather than serve as real change agents. This is perhaps why, despite my strong feminist leanings, I could never identify with the leaders who took the stage on women’s issues. And I don’t think many other women in the audience did either.
I often wondered what would happen if, instead of the parade of powerful women, a lower-level manager juggling a household, kids, a husband, and a personal life took the mic and said, “Raise your hand if you’re apathetic about your job because it’s all politics and bullshit anyway.” Would the majority of us once again have our hands in the air? Perhaps. We can’t know for sure because nobody ordinary appears onstage, and it’s a question no one ever asks.
The lack of authenticity wasn’t isolated to public conversations on female empowerment. It also governed the politics of our individual careers. As I discovered right away, the first rule of being a woman at work is to never tell the truth about all the reasonable feelings and concerns you have about being a woman at work. I’ve always been bad at knowing what I can and can’t say in certain situations, so I learned this painful lesson early and often.
One such time at Google, I had been in the same job for too long and was itching for a new role at the company. I found one I really wanted and quickly scored an interview with the hiring manager, Elizabeth. Since I came highly recommended by mutual colleagues, and she wouldn’t have to spend time training someone new, I figured I was a shoo-in.
Ten minutes into our interview, however, I started to sweat. Cool and confident walking in, I was now fumbling my way through even the softball questions. Elizabeth graduated cum laude from Oxford and had an MBA from Wharton. A former star in the consulting world, she’d trotted the globe telling CEOs how to run their billion-dollar organizations. And all the while, she built a side business that helped fund local charities in New York.
This would have been intimidating enough, but what made it worse was her restless energy, endless fidgeting, and frenetic pace of speech. Her brain processed my answers faster than I could talk. I’d barely eke out a sentence before she’d nod vigorously, raise her hand, and signal me to stop.
“I’d say my strengths are in the realm of creativity, since I—”
“Yep. Got it. Makes sense. Okay. Next . . .”
I sank farther down in my chair with each new question.
“How do you define advancement or your career goals overall?”
I gave my standard answer, one I’d given a hundred times before during performance reviews and career planning conversations.
“I don’t really see it as a vertical-type ladder, like most people . . .”
I paused, giving her the chance to understand my point before I made it. But she was quiet, so I continued.
“. . . I see it as circles of impact. Contributing more to the business or helping more and more people is my signpost for growth and advancement. It’s more rewarding than a promotion.”
For the first time since the interview began, Elizabeth sat back and smiled. Obviously, she was impressed with my use of the word signpost.
“Marissa, I really love that. I really do—that’s such a great way to think about it.”
I felt about five inches taller.
But it didn’t last, and for the remaining questions we went back to our initial dynamic of brilliant prodigy frustrated by bumbling moron. When it ended, I returned to my desk and told my good friend Greg how badly I had blown it. To salvage any remnants of self-respect, I mentioned the one bright spot.
“There was one thing I said that she actually liked . . .” I went on to tell him about my answer on career advancement.
“Oh my God. You are an idiot. Who says that?
I was incredulous.
“What do you mean? She loved it! It was the only thing I said that didn’t make her wonder how the hell I got a job here in the first place!”
Now Greg was incredulous.
Of course she loved it. It means you’re someone she can throw more and more work on without the bother of having to fight for your promotion. You basically just gave her carte blanche to shit all over you.”
“Oh my God.”
“She’s gonna hire you. Watch—I guarantee it. Then you’re really screwed.”
The truth was, I didn’t care about being promoted. The only things that mattered to me were money and compliments. As long as those two things were in ample supply, I was happy. But everyone else seemed to care about promotions so much, I doubted my instincts and figured I was being dumb or naive. Or worse. Maybe I was committing the gravest of female professional sins: doubting my ambition. (Gasp!)
I did get the job on Elizabeth’s team, and in the years following the spectacular failure of political savvy, I dropped the martyr stuff and tried playing the game on its own terms. I was doing a great job of keeping up the facade and advancing at a decent clip. Everything was going so well that sometimes I even forgot I was acting! My delusional world was a safe, happy place. But like most acts, it eventually ended.
The curtain on my days of deluded ambition closed during a two-year span in which I birthed three children, went through a traumatic divorce, singlehandedly moved the four of us to a new town, and began a new life as a single, working mom.
People say women lean out of their careers when they have kids, so they can spend more time with them, or for financial reasons or because of childcare issues. All are absolutely true. But I also think there’s another reason. With their time squeezed and their energy scarce, women have a dramatically lower tolerance for politics, power games, and office bullshit.
After the birth of my twins (my older son was only two at the time), I tried figuring out how to handle the magnitude of work to do at home without compromising a promotion I was on track to receive and that was the culmination of many years of hard work. I didn’t care about the title change, and I wasn’t thrilled about the added responsibility, but I wanted the salary increase. Now that I was running a day care at home while fulfilling the demands of my day job, I was afraid of losing the raise. In a meeting with my manager, Dana, I asked what I’d need to do to stay on track.
Dana said she was planning to submit my promotion after the next review cycle, and that to get it approved, I’d need to start managing people. The peers on my team—the same level as me and all reporting to Dana—each managed at least five people, whereas I had no direct reports. I’ve always preferred to do work instead of lording over others who do the work, so I’d made the conscious choice to be an individual contributor instead of a manager. But as Dana explained, Google’s policy prevented me from getting a promotion without having direct reports. The fact that I had the highest scores on our team made no difference. It was a hard-and-fast rule that beyond my level, you were required to manage people.
My valiant effort to hold back a fountain of tears lasted precisely no seconds.
“Dana, of course I want to be promoted. But I also wanna do work. Managing a team means I won’t be able to get deep into projects or be creative. And frankly, I’m a single mom of three babies. I’m responsible for enough people at home; I don’t want to be responsible for people at work. I just wanna do work.”1
It was the only time I was ever direct and honest with a manager about my resistance to being promoted and advancing my career. Although this resistance was likely interpreted as a lack of ambition, it wasn’t. I did have a desire to do interesting work. I wanted to solve problems and make an impact on the business. But managing a team wouldn’t help me do that. My time would be spent managing other people’s work and creating endless PowerPoints to explain to the higher-ups what it was we did at work all day, since most of them had no clue what was going on in their own departments.
Alas, these weren’t the kinds of things people at Google said out loud, lest they ruin their chances to “succeed.”
At Google, if you’re at the same level for too many years without getting promoted, you’re in danger of being put on a path toward the exit door. It doesn’t matter how amazing you are at your job, and how much world-changing work you’re doing. If you h...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Contents
  2. Author’s Note
  3. Prologue: A Series of Fortunate Events
  4. Introduction
  5. Part I
  6. Part II
  7. Part III
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Notes
  10. Index
  11. About the Author