This Harvard Business Review piece by Whitney Johnson bowled me over. I kept smacking my knee and shouting like a lunatic, “I do that,” and “Oh my god, I do that toooo!” I was alone while reading it, which didn’t stop me from repeatedly looking up, swiveling my head, hoping a stranger had wandered into my living room so I could tell them all about it. It’s seriously that good.
The writer recaps the many better business arguments for including women at the leadership table. But then, she very astutely points out that, “Unless women speak up — and I don’t mean just talk, but get fluent in and remain fluent in a domain of expertise, — the whole idea that women can bring something extra to the table and be game changers won’t happen.”
Sheryl Sandberg’s whole thing is about sitting at the table, and I don’t discount that advice. In fact, without it, I absolutely wouldn’t have the job I have now. But Johnson’s build on Sandberg’s argument is crucial; who cares if you’re at the table if you don’t open your mouth? And who cares if you do open your mouth if you don’t have anything productive to contribute? Becoming an expert is the bottom line, but developing the inclination and ability to share that expertise is actually more impactful in the long run.
Johnson gives three concrete ways to cultivate this mentality, but my favorite is #2: Talk Shop with Other Women. With female colleagues, I rarely talk about work (even at work!). We talk about our relationships with our mothers, upcoming weddings of our friends, soup recipes, celebrity break-ups, and the pros and cons of potential haircuts. It’s fun, we bond, and in some cases, we build really rewarding out-of-work friendships.What we don’t do, however, is practice articulating the challenges of our jobs. When I listen in on lunch conversations or elevator chit-chat of male peers, 90% of it is work-related. That may seem repetitive, but imagine how much more cogent they are in a meeting with their boss after they’ve just hashed out the issue in casual conversation with a peer? Johnson says, “When we flex our deep domain-expertise muscles, they get stronger. As we practice talking shop, we become more confident in sharing our knowledge and opinions, in any situation.”
Related Post: Sheryl Sandburg, the original post.
Related Post: More knee-smack inducing advice from Mika Brzezinski.