Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fast Women, Fast Friends

“Yes we can” was Obama’s great rallying cry – what happens when we girlfriends adopt it as our own? Marathoners Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher just reminded me. The New York Times tells how Goucher went to Radcliffe for advice – how to compete at the top while pregnant. Since Radcliffe herself was pregnant (2nd child), she had both tips and camaraderie to offer.

In contrast, this weekend I watched Tooth Fairy, the movie about a proud hockey player who’s lost confidence in himself and throws cold water on the dreams of others. I thought of an otherwise kind women who looked a me when I was returning to work after having my first child. “Yeah, I tried to go back full-time too. It just doesn’t work – you’ll learn!” she told me. I know she meant well – she wanted to save me the sadness she’d felt when things didn’t play out the way she wanted. That exchange made me realized how hard it is sometimes to put aside disappointments and cheer our friends on to succeed – especially about things that have been rough for us.

Gretchen Rubin, in her great book The Happiness Project has a fix: To remember that, more than any other kind of gift, what our friends need is food for their dreams -- encouragement and faith to help them surmount the odds. This rang true to me. While we women are great at comforting each other when life is hard, as a group, we are less prone to say, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" So when female friends remind me to keep my sights high, that indeed is something of rare value.

After I’ve done my moping about whatever it may be, the kindest friend is the one who puts her arm around me and says: “Yup, it’s tough. So are you going to give up? Or pick up your chin and get back in there.”
If we want more girl power, we need to give and receive the kind of candid gifts that allow women to reach for the gold.

Time’s “New Sheriffs of Wall Street” cover this week shows what good things happen when females despite adversity, muscle through – the heads of the SEC, FDIC and TAARP are are three amazing women. They know what I try to remember: Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

By Sharon Meers

Monday, May 17, 2010

Harvard Toolkit for Closing the Pay Gap

Great piece in the New York Times
about Hannah Riley Bowles and her research -- showing how women close their own pay gap when they’ve got the scoop on pay scales and perceptions.

Excerpt: Even now, when women represent half the work force, they’re still paid considerably less than men — and part of that pay gap may be a result of what happens at the salary negotiation table.

That’s assuming that women make it to the table, since research shows that they are less likely to ask for raises. Even when they do, their requests may be perceived as overly demanding or less agreeable.

“We have found that if a man and a woman both attempt to negotiate for higher pay, people find a woman who does this, compared to one who does not, significantly less attractive,” said Hannah Riley Bowles, an associate professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who has conducted numerous studies on gender, negotiation and leadership. “Whereas with the guy, it doesn’t seem to matter.”

So what’s a woman to do if she feels her work merits a raise?

A new study concludes that women need to take a different approach than men. Women, it suggests, should frame their requests in more nuanced ways to avoid undermining their relationship with their boss.

To see more research based suggestions on women can negotiate their way to close the pay gap - read full article in the New York Times.

By Sharon Meers

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Calling it Quits Before Getting Started

Last week I spoke at Columbia Teachers College's Organization and Human Development Consulting Club. My talk was on "Executive Coaching", and much of it revolved around how I got to where I am today. During my speech I discussed "paths" for getting experience - namely training and education, and working for a coaching company and/or human capital consulting firm. I worked at Accenture for 5 years in their Change Management Practice (now Human Capital) which launched my career in this field.

One of the students called me this week, as I encouraged any of the attendees to do. We dove into her questions about next steps, and I realized what she was really struggling with: although she desired to work in the field of Human Capital Consulting, she had no desire to live the life of a consultant. She knew what that looked like, knew she could do it now, but didn't want to be doing it later in life when she might want to start a family.

She was opting out before she was even in.

I took a deep breath and asked her some questions about the work - she is interning at a human capital consulting firm currently (a boutique) and was disappointed in her role. Most of her job was crunching data and making it pretty. I asked her if she liked the field and could see a path to interesting, more client-facing work. She said absolutely. She cared very much about putting herself in other people's shoes, trying to understand how they think and how to help them. She knows she's good at it. Yet...

...she cannot imagine her life as a consultant, even if the work is engaging and thrilling and what she is meant to do.

This is not the first time a client of mine has stopped before they've started based on potential limitations their future career will place on their future personal life. A client of mine whose deepest desire is to be a filmmaker, had all but stopped pursuing her dream because she believed film making would lead to months on the road, which would cause her to never meet a man, and therefore never have a family. Basically she had painted a picture of her dream career as one that would cause her to never be happy. She believed it to be an either-or situation.

These examples go on and on. Girls in high school are focusing on schools and careers that will lead them to a career they believe will be more "flexible" and allow them to be home in time for dinner. They are calling it quits before even getting started. I'm pretty sure the guys aren't doing this. They are confident that they'll work it out when and if they need to.

Do companies know that they are losing amazing people years before they are a potential recruit?

I encouraged this student to take another look at consulting -- to be open to the idea that consulting may or may not be the right career for her in 5-10 years, but it could be great for now. Consulting as a next step could give her the invaluable experience she needs to do whatever she wants in the field for whomever, or even for herself, later on.

As I ended the call I was saddened that our conversation indicated that it's still easier for people to avoid a potential rough road than stand up for what they want -- what they are passionate about -- and be the change. However, I was happy that I may have rescued one more woman from opting out of her dream career before it even began.

Rebecca Rodskog is a Change Management Coach and Consultant, an actress, speaker and writer. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.

By Rebecca Rodskog

Why Swords Are Good For Boys – And Girls Too

Yesterday, I got a message at work from my third child's nursery school: "Your son is making play weapons at school - light sabers, swords and shields. These are not appropriate for nursery school play. Please work with him to understand that these are not ok toys."

This is my third child, and second boy so I've been through this before. When my older son was in pre-school, one teacher told me his George Washington picture book was verboten -- he shouldn't bring this book to school because stories of war were not welcome in the classroom. (How this teacher explained why we're no longer a British colony, I just don't know.)

At our house, we've developed a pretty good arsenal. Sword fighting is a daily occurrence, as is wrestling, light saber fighting and even nerf guns. The kids love them, and all of the research I have done indicates that there is no harm in allowing these to be used in a "nice" way. Some of the research even shows that boys get demoralized when they are told that the toys they enjoy for their make believe play are "bad".

I am far more worried about girl cattiness in nursery school than I am boy make-believe weapon play. Those little boys who make guns out of bread: they seem to become CEOs of companies. Watching my older son play with water shooters in the pool with 10 other young boys shows me that they are learning to work together, form teams, develop strategy and importantly, have a really good time with each other. These are skills that should serve them well going forward. What types of activities do young girls do that work on these same skills?

I think schools should spend less energy criticizing boy play, and more energy helping girls to learn to participate. I would love my daughter to participate in sword fights with her friends, like my son does on play dates, rather than do art projects. I think it would be wonderful to watch a group of neighborhood girls stage a large water pistol engagement, rather than sit by the pool and chat. I believe these interactions help boys learn to relate to each other in a way that enables their success later on. I certainly wish I had learned to spar in sword fights - this could have been very useful in my first few years working in the corporate world.

By Joanna Strober