The Sandberg Effect: Are Working Women Defeating Themselves?
I often comb books, newspapers or magazines to find a subject for this column that interests me and I believe will help others or at least interest them. I was on such a chase today. Should I cover retirement benefits, social security or taxes? At a certain point, I realized the article and topic that kept coming to the forefront for me was Sheryl Sandberg.
For those who have not followed the latest book releases, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, wrote a book called “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” It has created quite a controversy in the news media for its portrayal of how women can defeat themselves in the workforce. I will admit now that I have started reading the book but not completed it. From my understanding, after reading many written reviews and viewing Sandberg’s presentation at TED, her viewpoint is one of choices and women making changes to support one another and solutions to achieving the success that they want.
First, let me say that as women in this day and age, we are lucky because we have choices in the United States. We can be stay at home moms, we can work part-time and we can work and have a family or not. They are all valid and great choices and the bottom line is the choice is a very personal one for the woman and possibly her family.
For those of you who don’t know me, I own a financial services firm in State College. I am married with no children, except for our two Labrador retrievers. I consider myself lucky. I enjoy my job, I have great clients, a great husband and was given the opportunities to move ahead in my business. I owe a lot to my mentor, Dan Nestlerode, who led our firm for over 25 years and whose father started the firm.
Sandberg says women often give the credit for success to outside forces. Men are prone to give the credit to themselves rather than to outside forces. Sandberg also thinks that women, “systematically underestimate their own abilities.” She thinks women need to take more credit for the work they do and get paid accordingly.
During my career, I certainly have faced a male dominated field and my share of male power plays but most of the time it has not been a hindrance. I have also been lucky to have wonderful male clients and mentors. In fact, I had a client tell me that part of the reason he chose me as an advisor was that since I was a woman, I probably worked twice as hard to get where I was.
In reality, I think the world is a challenging place for many working women. Women on average make less than men. There are many reasons given to explain this away. An interesting study through the American Association of University Women (AAUW) by Christianne Corbett, M.A. and Catherine Hill, Ph.D. clarified that gender does make a difference in salaries. The report studied the average annual earnings of college graduates one year after graduating and found that women do make less than men even accounting for college major, occupation and hours at work. Women earned just over $38,000 while men earned just over $45,000. The study showed that when a woman and a man graduate in the same field and work full time at the same occupation, the woman will make 7% less. The study through AAUW does make a case for women being unwilling to negotiate for a higher salary being part of the difference. Men are more likely to negotiate.
This salary gap makes a huge difference over time. The cumulative lost earnings run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars during a woman’s career. Also, as college students take on more debt to finance their education, the woman making less has to use more of her income to pay down the debt than the comparable male. This puts savings, housing and retirement savings farther out on the financial path for women. This is a difficulty as women on average live longer than men so they need the additional retirement savings to live on.
The only person whose decisions we can make and whose voice we can use is our own. So I want to encourage you, as women and as men mentoring women, to build a voice together as a community and ”lean in.” Maybe, just maybe, a lean-in group would work well in State College. Stay tuned…