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20 Oct 13 17:45

I just read Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. It is a well-researched account of the unconscious (ok, sometimes conscious too) bias that we all have when it comes to issues of gender. It verbalizes many thoughts and feelings I have sometimes neglected, left dormant, unanalyzed, throughout the years.

It's a (disturbing) reminder that we are all victims and perpetrators of unconscious bias. Ask yourself: Have people who value and love you thought differently of you because of your gender? Have you leaned back and let others claim your words, your work, your time instead of speaking out? Have you encountered hostile behaviors, from men and women alike, and been judged for your choices? Have you judged others, or (secretly) felt uncomfortable with others' choices because they challenged yours?

As she rightly says in the book, we all just want to "feel comfortable with our choices and feel validated by those around us". This becomes much harder during times of change when roles are being redefined and everybody's scrambling for time to meet their needs / priorities. So I understand why we can get defensive, and sometimes even aggressive.

Unconscious bias can work in funny ways too. I particularly liked the section on the professional who's single and feels everything falls on her at work because somehow her free time is not seen as important as her colleagues' who have children to take care of. I don't have kids but that doesn't mean I don't have a life to go to after work too! So why do I feel like I should cover up for colleagues with families?

As much as I hate being associated with "feminism" due to the term's legacy negative connotations (that new F-word), I now realize we need to talk about these issues so as to address them and correct them. So thank you, Sheryl, for making me see that.

But more importantly (in my view), we need to think more diversely about diversity. It makes me sad to think that after all these years and many victories, we finally discuss diversity… but too often only focusing on gender. As we all know, diversity is so much more!

If we are going to find solutions to this world's huge challenges, from managing climate risks through securing sufficient healthy food for all, to paying for our pensions... we are going to need ALL our collective intelligence, creativity, dedication... and working hours! That means all genders, races, cultures from countries rich and poor.

"Us and them" is our very human way of categorizing things so as to understand them. Only through contact do "them" become "us". So let's all try to get closer to each other and get into each others' shoes: The single working mother, the farmer who's just lost his/her crop to a storm or drought, the old pensioner who can no longer pay his/her electricity bill without any loved ones to call on...

Here's to us all leaving our personal insecurities and agendas aside and leaning in for the planet and for each other.

(Click on the link below for Sheryl's brilliant TED Talk on "Why we have too few women leaders")

(Picture courtesy of wikipedia: Photograph of American Women Replacing Men Fighting in Europe, 1945)

Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders | Video on

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions -- and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.

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Nuria Pena - 20 Oct 2013, 7:35 p.m.

muy bueno Alice! Me gustó mucho el ejemplo de la mujer sin hijos que debe trabajar entonces por todos los demás. Mh..tanto para hablar! Espero que de ahora en más te declares feminista y no le tengas tanta alergia a la palabra. Entiendo lo de la mala prensa pero es parte del problema justamente que ni siquiera una mujer pueda decir que es feminista sin ser criticada..Acá hoy es el día de la Madre y me parece interesante como parece que para ser mujer, hay que ser madre y todos los discursos discriminatorios que rondan en torno a esto..besos desde Buenos Aires!

Ana Vicente - 20 Oct 2013, 11:21 p.m.

Interesting Alicia, and makes you want to read the book. A small correction; Being a mum doesn't equal having a life after fact it is just the opposite, one feels there are obligations.., miles away from what you ( or I did) understand as "having a life" and in fact take away from the feeling of " being a woman" ( rather than a mum), Nuria.

Alicia Montoya - 21 Oct 2013, 6:43 a.m.

@Nuria, yep, I'm now officially out of the feminist closet ;) But I actually feel even closer to that wider definition of diversity I call for. I'd love to hear what you think immigration can and should bring to the table given your expertise on the topic. What kind of legislative changes need to happen for immigration to help sustain growth (and pay for my pension, please!)? And what kind of changes need to occur in the workplace for company cultures to embrace change and diversity of views?

Gavin Montgomery - 21 Oct 2013, 9:07 a.m.

Growing up in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, the consequences of disenfranchisement were particularly visible. Apartheid excluded three quarters of the country's population from the formal workplace and deprived those people of education, basical healthcare, dignity, and security. The pass law meant that these people were forced into migrant labour, either on the mines, in factories as low-skilled workers, or as domestic workers, with working age adults spending up to six months at a time away from their homes, families, communities. The total costs of these policies is incalculabe. There is the enormous opportunity cost of exclusion but also the social consequences which are reflected in today's statistic for HIV/Aids, violent crime, literacy, birth deaths, etc. Aids alone is expected to cost South Africa between $88 billion and $102 billion in state expenditure (i.e., not measuring the other economic costs of the disease which affects 5.7 million people) over the two decades ending 2031. (

The clear lesson is that exclusion and bigotry have a huge social and economic cost.

The picture with this story reminds me of a simple statistic: U.S. GDP rose more than 75% between 1938 and 1945, from about $800 billion to $1,475 billion (at 1990 values - during World War 2. That growth reflects the shift to war-time production and billions of dollars in foreign loans to Allied partners under the lend lease program, but a lot of the work was done by women. The statistics overall suggest that prior to the war, the U.S. economy was at least 75% less productive than it should have been.

That is born out by the fact that U.S. GDP did not fall after the war. (Note, figures are absolute rather than adjusted)

Daniel Martin Eckhart - 21 Oct 2013, 10:31 a.m.

All too common, yes, it happens all the time, every day, all around us. What Sheryl Sandberg points out is really that women can do a lot more to help themselves. And ideally both genders empower each other on the path to equality.

I've just had a conversation with a female collague of mine and was instantly reminded of Sandberg's TED Talk. It was about a job opportunity and this colleague, usually a strong, direct human being, was sitting there somewhat hunched and saying "I'm just not sure I have what it takes." I could have smacked her because she does. I told her "What you said right now is what a typically comes from a woman." The slouch disappeared as she realized it - she will apply for the job... and I hope she gets it because she's got everything it takes and more.

Rashunda Tramble - 21 Oct 2013, 12:39 p.m.

@Ana: This is only my opinion, but I think being a mom (or dad) gives you a tiny bit more leeway in the corporate world, at least here in Switzerland. For example, you can say "I need off because I have to (insert something about your children)." There's an unsaid honor to someone taking off work for their children...or even their partner. I believe workplaces are becoming very family friendly, which is a good thing. But I do think that those of us who are single and childless need some understanding as well in terms of workload.

Edited to add: But I do honor working moms! No issue there.

Alicia Montoya - 21 Oct 2013, 1:25 p.m.

@Gavin: Indeed! That workforce is NEEDED, and not just women. As you rightly mention, any exclusion is actually bad for us all somewhere down the line. Exactly my point: There is no them, it's all "us" now in this global world anyway.

@Daniel: Send her this post, maybe it will help her as the book helped me.

@Rashunda: Totally agree. It's funny because during the Middle Ages, when pests, childhood mortality and famine decimated the workforce, having children was actually needed and a social act in itself. Today, one could argue in both directions: Of course bringing children to the world is beneficial in a million ways. But not bringing them is actually also a huge contribution to society by limiting pressure on finite resources. And yet, while the first group is, as you say, finally getting some support (by no means enough or fair, but some), us childless women seem to be at the short end of both sticks! Not that I'm complaining about my life, it's awesome. But if we talk about equality... it's not. And since we're out here airing it all out... there goes that too! And why do I even feel bad about saying that? Sigh...

Rashunda Tramble - 21 Oct 2013, 4:17 p.m.

I think the issue for me is that everyone should be respected for their work and their lifestyle accepted no matter what, regardless of their relationship or family status.

Alba Chantico - 21 Oct 2013, 4:28 p.m.

Muy acertado artículo, mi estimada Alice. Las notas que han compartido sobre tus aseveraciones en torno a la maternidad y la soltería en el contexto del trabajo empresarial es una realidad y la hemos vivido quienes hayamos trabajado como profesionistas independientes solteras y sin compromisos y luego hemos visto la otra cara de la moneda con nuestros embarazos y pequeños tiempos libres. Sí, interesante, pero hay otros temas que me parecen muy relevantes en este texto, por una parte tu aseveración, que sale del libro de Sandberg sobre nuestra necesidad de estar cómodos con la gente que nos rodea, en estos tiempos de cambios y redefiniciones de estereotipos que ya tenemos en control y que, de pronto mutan hacia algo desconocido... interesante reflexión a la que se le escapa, a mi parecer, el miedo tan grande que nos provoca lo diferente, lo que no soy yo, lo "otro". Finalmente, creo que tu llamado a la vinculación entre grupos diversos es un llamado súper necesario que debe ser repetido sin cansancio por todo tipo de luchador (contra estereotipos, cuestiones de género, racismo, etc). Bien por eso.

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