How Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer Prove That We’ve Found Equality Where We Don’t Want It

I have great respect for the ways that Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer are doing what they think is right and completely ignoring all the chatter about them on the web. They are doing what any man would do – running companies and professoring – and sparking a national debate on the issues of work-life, family and leadership.

They’re doing a great job, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of us.

Stop Personalizing This Debate

The rest of us seem intent on pitting them against each other – even when they’re not fighting. Here is how Dr. Slaughter responded to someone recently trying to slam her for disagreeing with Ms. Sandberg.

We’re also intent on holding them responsible for what “we” think a woman should stand for. Marissa Mayer is trying to save Yahoo! Her ban on telecommuting has been poorly managed from a public relations point of view, but the comments and articles pouring forth personalize and demonize her for not “representing women’s interests.”

Hello? It’s not Ms. Mayer’s responsibility to represent women’s interests, work-life or otherwise. It’s her responsibility to run Yahoo! Dr. Slaughter and Ms. Sandberg don’t have to agree – even though they do agree on many things – they only have to stand by their own opinions, which they are doing.

Here’s the hard, cold truth about equality, ladies; there will be winners and losers; we will disagree; and this is a good thing!


But when we personalize and demonize those who we disagree with, we fall into one of the unhelpful patterns that get women in trouble for “cat fighting.”

Agree or disagree with the ideas, but treat the idea holders with respect. The challenges they are taking on are complicated and complex. There are no simple answers. The answers that will bear the greatest fruit will not make everyone – including working mothers – happy.

Equality where we don’t want it

There has also been a resurgence in my feeds about Queen Bee issues and b*#chy bosses. I believe it’s related. I believe the discussions in the public dialog are making us more sensitive to the women in our lives who are not helping us. Guess what? That’s a good thing too, because it gives us all an opportunity to realize that women are not better than men. Nastiness is a human quality and as humans, women can be equal opportunity jerks. It’s true that women are less likely to be bullies, but more likely to bully other women when they do. Ok. It’s a fact that some women are mean and like to pick on other women, who are easier targets. Some men are mean too. Learn not to be an easy target. Hold them equally accountable instead of – once again – setting the standards higher for women.

The sooner we hold women accountable instead of “feeling betrayed” by them and punching back (or as is more common, “passive aggressiv-ing back”), the sooner they stop pushing our buttons and we create the opportunity for real change.

Women CAN Lead the Way

While I believe that women can be equally nasty, I also believe that – even with the ugly side of equality alive and well within our ranks – women hold the key to a better leadership future – not because we’re better than men but because we can access a better way for women and men alike. Woman have the capability to relate to each other in ways that are uniquely supportive, healing and highly productive. We have a special way of calling on each other to live into our higher selves, finding “both/and” solutions and “win-win” outcomes.

In my experience, and the experience of many other women I know, this feminine leadership style can help our careers amazingly, but very few of us were taught how to lead like this. Yet many of us know it when we feel it. Once we see it in action, and are called to this unique form of leadership, we drink it up, learn it quickly, model it for others and make it core to our recipe for success. And it does help us succeed!

The best thing about this form of leadership is that it’s accessible to everyone, no matter where or in what food chain you’re swimming. All you have to do is experience it, learn what you weren’t taught and start bringing other women into your leadership circle to learn it.


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