By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
There was a quizzical moment when I pulled the new Time magazine from my mailbox. On the cover is a picture of Sheryl Sandberg, in a power-red dress, with the headline “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful.”
Uh-oh. I’m not usually clueless about news magazine subjects. I had never heard of Sandberg. That was Saturday.
On Sunday, Sandberg — she is Facebook’s chief operating officer — was on “60 Minutes.” By Monday, the interviewer from Sunday’s CBS News show was buzzing about Sandberg on CNN. Sandberg is everywhere, with her new book “Lean In” and a website, LeanIn.org, both focused on helping women achieve career success.
In “Lean In,” which was also featured in an Associated Press article published in The Herald Tuesday, Sandberg writes: “While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry.” According to the book, women make up only 14 percent of the nation’s executive officers.
Sandberg places much responsibility for failing to break through the glass ceiling in the hands of women themselves. Women, she said on “60 Minutes,” tend to hold back rather than reach when a big job opportunity comes along. She also cited the obvious — that concern about family stands in the way of women getting ahead. Hearing that, I could almost hear every mom in America saying “Well, duh.”
Work situations for most Americans — women and men — have little in common with the life of someone overseeing a multibillion dollar company. Yet Sandberg shares experiences that do resonate.
On “60 Minutes,” she said she was called “bossy” as a girl. Are boys ever called bossy?
Carol Nelson is one accomplished woman who welcomes a conversation about gender and success. Nelson, 57, was appointed last month by Gov. Jay Inslee as director of the state Department of Revenue. The Edmonds woman comes to the public sector after a long career in banking.
She was chief executive of Cascade Bank. After the California-based Opus Bank acquired Cascade Bank, Nelson became president of Opus Bank’s Washington operations. She left that job a year ago.
Nelson, who is married and has two grown sons, said Tuesday she agrees with Sandberg that girls and young women sometimes get the message that “ambition is bad.”
Although banking is a conservative industry, Nelson said it opens doors for women moving into leadership ranks. “Seventy-five percent of bank employees are women, so there’s a strong pool to draw from. That has been helpful. That’s not to say it’s been easy,” Nelson said.
She is encouraged that Inslee appointed 10 women out of more than 20 executive cabinet positions, and chose Renton schools leader Mary Alice Heuschel as his chief of staff.
In government, Washington’s women have led the way. Girls and young women can look to the examples of former Gov. Christine Gregoire, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Sally Jewell, the REI executive nominated to head the Department of Interior.
Barbara Lamoureux, 68, founded her Lamoureux Real Estate firm in Everett in 2004 after years of working in other fields, including for her father Bob Long’s appliance business, Judd &Black.
Sandberg’s recent TV interviews strike a familiar chord with Lamoureux. “I had to laugh when I heard her say that if men do such-and-such they’re assertive, but if women do the same thing they are bossy,” Lamoureux said.
She recalls as a child hearing not-so-subtle suggestions that girls should play down their accomplishments. “I tried not to stand out too much, or be too important,” she said.
As a young woman working for the Snohomish County PUD in the early 1970s, Lamoureux said she successfully fought a policy that required women to quit working when their pregnancies started to show.
Lamoureux and Nelson both see in Sandberg’s effort an impulse to pass along knowledge.
“I’ve read about the queen-bee syndrome, when a couple generations back women felt there was only one seat at the table and it was theirs,” Nelson said. “That has changed tremendously. I feel that responsibility. You want to offer opportunities to other women.”
Mixing career and family is hard for all of us. Nelson credits her husband, “a terrific partner,” saying they “picked up the slack for each other” while raising kids.
“Every parent is juggling,” Nelson said. “In the end, I think your children see your effort, your hard work. I think they’re really quite proud.”
Since graduating from Everett High School in 1963, Lamoureux has seen big strides for women. She would love to see a woman clear one more hurdle.
“I’m hoping in our lifetime we will see a female president,” Lamoureux said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.