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[WWIB was pleased to invite moderator C.A. Webb ’97 and speakers Professor Olga Shurchkov ’01 (Economics) and Professor Linda Carli (Psychology) for a conversation about “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg’s new book. “Lean In” is a book about how women can empower themselves to take charge of their career and realize their ambitions. It is call for women to start challenging assumptions and stop being afraid of “having it all” in order to realize their true capabilities. Below, you will find summaries of the event’s main talking points.]

Female Work Style – Research shows that women generally thrive in roles that value verbal communication and are low-stress, which may involve “softer” deadlines and more flexible hours, among other things. The combination of greater verbal communication and stress relief is so effective in helping women become more competitive in their positions that they actually outperform men, even in areas such as mathematics, where men are generally considered superior. Indeed, the gender gap is the largest for high-stress occupations, such as financial analysts and hedge fund managers. In jobs with greater flexibility, the gender gap is virtually nonexistent. Studies further show that when given more time to perform tasks, women will improve the quality of their work, whereas men may make more mistakes. This can be interpreted to show that women are more concerned with the quality of their work, so they make sure their answer is correct before moving on to the next problem. On the other hand, men are more concerned with the quantity of their output, so given more time, they try to complete more problems without regard to the quality of their work. Given women’s preference of quality versus quantity in their work, the government, in the future, may attempt to create more jobs specifically for women that especially value quality.

Negotiation – At the negotiation table, men tend to evaluate themselves with an exaggerated sense of self-worth, while women have a more accurate self-appraisal. Should you, as a woman, follow suit and aggressively promote yourself to snatch up that pay raise? If you do, be prepared to be called “obnoxious” or “bitchy” by your fellow women. “When women act like men, even women don’t like them,” says Professor Carli. It’s a challenging line to walk, balancing between modest and overconfident, and we all must learn our own best approach.

Leadership – Women are often stereotyped as warm, kind and nurturing, while men are stereotyped as assertive, agentic, and strong. Women and men alike often unconsciously associate leaders with the traits of the latter. So how should “Wellesley Women Who Will” react to this psychological phenomenon? Certainly don’t become an autocrat, or try to “act like a man,” as suggested in Lean In. Professor Carli advocates for a gender-neutral leadership style called transformational leadership. Such leaders are future-oriented problem-solvers who are willing to help subordinates develop. This is the style of leadership that leads to advancement, and it doesn’t require you to act like a man, which is something you may be punished for doing in the workplace.

Family – Women are not afraid of leadership, rather, they are afraid of how their lives will orient when they decide to start a family. Right now, American parents are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. Unfortunately, anyone who completely retreats from her career for family will find it difficult to get back into the same career trajectory as before, and it will be virtually impossible to make up for the lost income. Therefore, it is important to choose a spouse who will truly be a partner, and let partner do partner’s part, says Professor Carli. “Some men may enjoy doing domestic duty, so don’t deprive them of it.”

We will leave you with Professor Shurchkov’s words: Be happy with your choices. As an economist, she does not look back in regret, but only looks forward to make decisions that maximize her happiness. And so should you, whether it means leaning in at work or at home. What is your path in pursuit of happiness? Are you leaning in?


Article written by Becky Huang