Because I care about women in business

It's been almost two years since I finished reading Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  It had been on my "to read" list for quite a while, though when it first came out I wasn't sure I even wanted to read it. Interestingly, after reading many reviews, it was a truly scathing review, written by a former Facebook employee, that convinced me I wanted to read it. Bad reviews of that ilk tend to make me suspicious. (If you haven't read the book, Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk is a good intro to what she discusses.)

When I think about Sheryl Sandberg's message and how my own professional life has played out, I know that there are times that I've made decisions that were not in my best interest long-term. Sometimes, the short-term is the higher priority, but there were instances that I could have been a better advocate for myself and I chose not to rock the boat. Fear was a big driver in my decision-making, along with a healthy dose of insecurity.

I spent years sitting comfortably in a little box that others built up around me. I allowed people (supervisors, colleagues) to dictate what I would do and how I'd do it - and I conformed to their expectations without question. At some point, I started to poke holes in the box, seeing little bits of what was possible outside. Finally, that box began to feel uncomfortable and stifling. 

It can seem as if Sheryl Sandberg is saying that every woman should aspire to reach the C-suite, and I think some have interpreted her message along those lines - I even looked at it that way for a while. I don't anymore.

What I get from her is encouragement to go after what you want professionally and personally and find ways to make the two balance in a way that works for your individual situation. Women have a lot to offer, and I am passionate about supporting my fellow women in business in achieving their goals and making a difference for them in Ottawa.

Last night, I was at the Annual General Meeting of the Women's Business Network of Ottawa. I joined the network nearly three years ago as a way to build relationships in the business community, specifically with women. I've had the pleasure of calling several of the women in the network my clients, though that honestly isn't my goal when I go to our events. I want to learn from others, grow in my abilities as a service provider, and support other women in business.

Since I joined the WBN, I've discovered that I'm very passionate about helping women in business. I'm a helper by nature - people often have to stop me from volunteering to do things. (I'm getting better at keeping my mouth shut or saying no or suggesting someone else.) I think women in the business community have unique needs that the WBN is trying to address. We're raising awareness of disparities that exist. We're encouraging women to go for what they want and supporting them while they do it. 

These days I'm leaning in to what I want. From the writing conference I'm attending later this month, to doing freelance work I enjoy when I'm not at my day job, to doing more writing in general. Last, but not least, I've taken on a role that I'm very excited about - one that I wouldn't have tried were it not for a push from a friend.

For the next year, I am the President of the Women's Business Network. Pretty cool, eh?

The opportunity to take action on the passion I have for helping women in business is irresistible. The team of Executives and the Board leadership this year is a group of women that I am truly thrilled to work with.

It's one piece of the bigger picture for me. It's a huge piece, but I'm honoured to have the opportunity.

I'm leaning in to the things I feel strongly about and hoping to make a difference in the community overall. 

Just as we all have our different realities of balance, we have different definitions of success. For any woman that wants to take on the kind of leadership role in the corporate world, I hope they do lean in to every opportunity that keeps them moving forward. And for all the amazing small business owners that I know, I hope they lean in as well - to their own definition of success and to their community. I will be right there rooting for them as they move forward in their chosen work.

The worker I look up to the most

Yesterday was Labo(u)r Day in Canada and the U.S. and possibly in other countries who aren't in my calendar of holidays. Usually, Labour Day is the one last hoorah before the school year finally gets us all back into the swing of things - in Canada, at least. It's definitely different in the U.S. where it was often a nice little break after the first few weeks of school were finished. 

This year, I asked myself who I would say was my biggest role model for how I've lived out my professional life. What "labourer" had the most influence on me? And why?

Questions like this aren't my favourite. I always have a hard time trying to name a role model for myself. I don't easily look up to celebrities, not even "celebrities" in industries, though I can't deny that I'm a total fangirl of some people in the communications world - especially some of the women who have achieved great success and acclaim. How can I not respect that when it's genuinely deserved?

However, I don't know the day-to-day work life of any of those people. There is only one person who I could ever choose and I knew her better than any co-worker I've ever had.

Navy swearing in.

Navy swearing in.

A practical role model

The woman I've looked up to most in my entire life is (surely a shocker for long-time readers) my mom. I have rarely met any worker who was more dedicated to quality, determined to get the job done, and didn't mind getting calls at all hours of the night. That list is too short to really do her justice, though. Here's a better one:

Ten things that have always impressed me about my mom

Salutatorian of her high school class.

Salutatorian of her high school class.

  1. It was clear when she was very young that she was wicked smart. She played three different instruments (two she taught herself on her own time), was a majorette in the marching band, and graduated the salutatorian of her class.
  2. She was in the Navy until she got married or pregnant (I can't remember which one was the catalyst for her discharge).
  3. After becoming a full-time single mother not long after my brother was born, she continued working and going to school. She didn't let go of her dreams of being a teacher.
  4. She was seven months pregnant with me when she graduated from university with her education degree - ten years after she graduated from high school. My brother was six.
  5. When my grandfather (my dad's side) was very ill after I was born, mom helped care for him until his death, even though it delayed starting her teaching career. Family came first.
  6. She taught special education. (This could be reasons 6-10, but there's more.)
  7. Six or seven years into her teaching career, she was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis and was forced to leave teaching.
  8. Mom trained to become a COBOL programmer back when mainframes were still a thing. Then she branched out into other programming languages that weren't as close to becoming obsolete.
  9. She wasn't afraid to take on difficult and demanding projects. Yanno, like being responsible for the payroll run for most state employees. (Those years were the source of most of the obscene o'clock phone calls.)
  10. When it was time to leave, she did. Being a conscientious employee, mom didn't like to leave things undone. However, she moved on at every stage at the right time - including when she retired early because of her disability. 

Not just a mom

I have the unique perspective of actually being able to call my mother a former co-worker - for three and a half years, in fact. For a couple of those years, we were even under the same supervisor. I knew my mother, the woman who gave birth and raised me, but it's not often that we have the chance to work with a parent (outside of family businesses). 

Working with my mom was sometimes a frustrating experience. She often explained things to me as if I knew a lot more background than I did. If the pay hadn't been so good at that stage of my life, I might have quit. Fortunately, I didn't, and we eventually figured out how to communicate effectively as colleagues.

I learned so much from being in that job and watching my mom. I got to get my feet wet in a safe environment with my ten moms (what I called my mom and all the women she was friends with at work). I built confidence in asking for raises, applying for promotions, presenting innovative solutions, taking on big projects, and even minimal supervision of others. 

The only reason I left that job working with my mom was because I was moving to Canada. But just like mom, it was also time for me to go even if I had stayed in Tallahassee. I learned everything I could from that experience and it was the right time to move on and learn from the next one.

I hope you had a relaxing Labour Day yesterday. Who has influenced you most in your work life?