Monday, July 8, 2013

Flex Your Independence

Well independence day has came and went. I am sure we all enjoyed the day off from work, endless BBQ, and fireworks. But speaking of Independence, I am currently reading a book called Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I am not even to the halfway mark yet according to my Kindle, but it is definitely challenging me in positive ways. It makes me think of being independent--being fierce as a woman, as a woman of color, as a mother, as a wife, and as a working mom.

One of the things she said that stood out to me in the very first few pages of the book was "knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better". I often look at my own workplace and marvel at how far we have come but I realize now more than ever, we have an even longer way to go if we want to be a "company" (I put this in quotation marks because we are a public charter school but I like to think of us as any other successful company that exists today because we work like we should be on Wall St) that gets and keeps extraordinary woman educators; especially those of color and those that have children.

Initially our company did not have very many woman with children. In fact, I believe that there were only one or two woman with children when I first arrived at little over four years ago. But now babies are coming fast as lightening--there must be something in the water because clearly I drunk it too.

Sandberg says that "a woman needs to combine niceness with insistence". This can be tough because I am definitely a nice person. This is not necessarily a bad quality but in the work place, sometimes people definitely take advantage of "nice" woman. I have worked through my stomach being in knots so that I can make sure that I get the accommodations I deserve given what I bring to the table for the betterment of my own personal sanity and for my family (and also to help other woman who will come after me). I was pleasantly surprised that I was obliged but how many woman don't even raise the questions or ask for what they could potentially get because of fear? As woman, Sandberg points out, we often downplay our strengths and accomplishments in ways that men don't. Men ask and we often work through the challenge or struggle.

My challenge to you is what could you ask for or make someone aware of that could enhance your work life as a woman? In Lean In, Sandberg tells the story about asking for a closer parking space when she was pregnant while working at google after she over exerted herself trying to make it to the meeting after having to park far away one particular day. She was given what she asked for and her boss let her know that he hadn't even thought about pregnant woman at the company needing that accommodation. She said that she wondered how many woman before her had suffered. But because she spoke up, pregnant woman now have closer parking, which I am sure they all appreciate--I know I would.
Now I am not talking about asking for grandiose pay raises or pawning of your responsibilities on others (I would also not encourage you to get out of hand with requests until you have gain your footing within your company); I am talking about reasonable accommodations that can make a huge impact on your work life and in turn your own family life.

I'll give you an example.
I have to be at work at 7:15AM (go ahead and is crazy). This school year I asked for 15 extra minutes so I could potentially actually see my child in the morning. I was asked to take a pay cut but refused. Really for 15 minutes? That's ridiculous and no one brought it up again so I thought I was clear. As the school year progressed though, I realized that all I could do in that time was literally see my son (and he is not an early riser so that didn't even always happen). No getting him dressed, no breakfast, no dropping him off at daycare, nada. This got extremely frustrating particularly on days where I didn't end work until 6PM or later.
So, before I signed my contract for the next school year I insisted that 7:30AM was not enough. When I found out how much of a salary reduction I would have to take to come in at 8AM, livid isn't even the word that could describe how I felt. I was ready to walk (literally right then I wanted to pack all my stuff and leave). Even if I did not have another job offer (which I did) I should not be treated so unjustly as a woman, as a working mom, and woman of color. What man in my company would ever have to do such a thing? Why would I have to give up so much when my company was still getting all of the work they wanted from me? For an extra 45 minutes a day...yeah right, I was not having that.
Needless to say, I expressed my frustration and concerns with my boss. This was a series of very tense conversations and emails over the course of a few weeks. We need to develop better policies for working moms I told him. I was nice but firm. I knew this would not happen overnight so, I agreed to a to a compromise--a schedule that was more in line with the salary reduction I was being asked to take. Not 100% what I would like but a start. As a result, I can already tell that next school year will be better for all of us. That additional time will allow me to hug my baby in the morning and have breakfast with him before stepping foot into a classroom. Do I feel guilty? Absolutely not. Was I nervous? Heck yeah. But it had to be done. I was getting angry and bitter just thinking about a pay cut and that doesn't help me be a better parent or educator. I had to challenge the powers that be because if I am going to give my very best at work, my son needs that at home as well and I have to have time to give it to him. As woman, we have to do these kinds of things. I wouldn't say we have to be fearless (somethings/conversations are just plain scary) but we can't let fear stop us. 

Right now my son is the epitome of fearless. Even after a fall--he likes to jump on pretty much anything. In fact he even took a tumble off the couch yesterday but after a few tears,  he was jumping on the couch again in a matter of minutes. While I will never be as fearless as a child, I want to move forward as a woman with confidence in the workplace. Lean In is helping me with that already.

While I know strides have been made in my own workplace and many around the country, we have to make sure that people become too comfortable. People can't fix what they don't know is broken. We have to speak up. Needs are always changing. We are evolving. We have a lot of growing to do, especially in young companies. Woman in leadership have to speak up because what they say and don't say will affect the woman that follow them.

Anywho-I know that was a lot but this book really has me thinking.

How do you deal with woman's issues in your workplace? I'd love to hear. I'd also encourage you to check out the book Lean In. Let's follow up about how it ends later.


  1. Great post! I can't wait to start the book - I'm gonna start as soon as I'm finished with the mommy books I'm reading :) girl, definitely gonna read it ASAP though - we will talk

  2. Yes! It's a game changer. I'm going to try to finish it this month.

  3. I am going to purchase now! This blog is lifting my spirits even as I reread. Thanks for this post you spoke truth to my midnight hour.

  4. Your welcome! That's what I hope this blog will do!