Ambitious Women at work

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The first quarter of 2013 led to a significant discussion about women and leadership from a practical and theoretical perspective. The debate was inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, with her new book, “Lean In”, and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, with some tough decisions about remote working. Leslie Kwoh from the “Wall Street Journal” summarizes the advice of Ursula Burns, CEO of “Xerox” and first African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
While Sheryl Sandberg focuses on how women could “lean in” better in the workplace and overcome self-doubt, Burns addresses the context. She advises to find a good husband, jokingly adding “20 years older”, because a husband fully engaged in his own career is most likely less supportive when it comes to organizing the family life. In addition, she highlights the importance of a good work-life balance without stressing oneself in the vain attempt to make it perfect. Finally and in agreement with Sandberg, she perceives a realistic self-assessment as the basis for success. Some selfishness is unavoidable, feelings of guilt should be kept in check, and overall life should not be taken too seriously.
It is Burns realism and humor which allows her advice to stand out. In addition, she makes an important point by addressing the question of the partner and the work-life balance in general. Of course women must “lean in” at the workplace, develop trust in their abilities, and advance personal skills. The highest proportion of women in leading positions is however found in some Scandinavian countries which made it easier to embed the diverse social roles of women around their work. Most women cannot build a nursery close to their offices and need a social structure supporting business travel and overtime. Finally it is refreshing that Burns puts work into context, it is a central element of life but not life.