It’s vacation and I’m reading!

photo (37)

My #100HappyDays moment came early today while I spent the morning in bed and by the pool with a real book in my hand. I used to be an avid reader, but over the past few years, I’ve lost that. I used to go cover to cover with at least one book a week, but now I’m lucky if I get through one per quarter!

Right now, I’ve got two books on the go, one fictional, one not. Vacation is a perfect time to sit down and spend some time with some literature.

A Tale for the Time Being came on my radar when it made the shortlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Some of my favourite books have been set in Japan (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) which is no reason to want to read a book, but it was good enough for me. Besides, the synopsis spoke to melancholic preferences.

In a small cafe in Tokyo, 16-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.

Far more controversial is my non-fiction selection. Sheryl Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and wrote Lean In as a guidebook for developing leaders from young professional women. I’ve always had an appetite for feminist writings and feel pretty open to some empowerment, I dove in and really enjoyed what I read. (I’m only about halfway done so I can’t give a complete review.)

Sandberg has been criticized at length for her book. Yesterday, I read this great article that explains how one reader came around to some of Sandberg’s ideas. There’s been a lot of backlash. Some of it I can sympathize with, some of it is just a big old waste of time. (As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t like it, move on.)

Is Sandberg’s line of thinking new to me? No. Is it groundbreaking? Nuh-uh. Has it changed my life? Not really. What is it good for? It’s made me more aware of my experiences as a woman in the workplace, particularly, as a woman in a male-dominated workplace.

When I discuss this book, most people aren’t very interested and even act a bit defensive. Based on a number of conversations, the impression I get is that we are all waiting for our older male coworkers to leave the workplace and then everything is going to change. Well. Read on. This is one of the most impactful (to me) facts included in the book so far.

In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace. They started with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. The case described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her “outgoing personality…and a vast personal and professional network that included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.” Flynn and Anderson assigned half of the students to read Heidi’s story and gave the other half the same story with just one difference – they changed the name “Heidi” to “Howard.”

I think you know where this is going, but read on…

Professors Flynn and Anderson then polled the students about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. The students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, which made sense since “their” accomplishments were completely identical. Yet, while students respected both Heidi and Howard, Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi, on the other hand, was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” The same data with a single difference – gender – created vastly different impressions.

These aren’t people who are on the verge of retirement. These aren’t people who entered the workplace in a different era. These are students, some of whom have yet to even enter the workplace. To simplify it, we all like successful men, but we like successful women less and to blame the old-timers for that isn’t fair. I don’t like the fact, but it doesn’t surprise me. My office view provides plenty of examples of inequality, but this book has given me fuel to make at least a little change in my environment for myself, for my few female coworkers and for the ones who will come after us.

I don’t know the answer to changing our perception of successful women. I didn’t find it in the book either. If you’re interested in the role gender plays at work, Lean In is a pretty interesting read. It’s packed with anecdotes which help shape the authour’s points and her lengthy (and impressive) resume provide a great deal of material to refer back to.

On a lighter note, if you’re in the mood for a new hobby, find one here.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.41.54 PM

Me, I need to get back to the pool. Splish splash! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.