by Elizabeth Baca, MD, MPA
California Emerge Class 2013
There has been so much buzz around Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, that I felt compelled to add to the discussion. I uniquely identify with her on a few fronts, as a young 4 year-old my family actually had a baby blue colored t-shirt made for me with my photo on it and the phrase, “I’m the Boss!” Apparently, I wanted to be in charge and had an opinion about everything. I also taught aerobics, and remember the days of getting through new routines, while feeling awkward, yet smiling to get through the class. Although it was not the 80s…the leotards were just as funny in retrospect. I also had the opportunity to spend several years at Harvard as a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government and the Medical School. Which ironically, even as I write this, there is a tinge of- should I really include this in the blog? Will this sound too self-promoting? Will I get criticized?
And therein lies the importance of this book. And, the importance of a training program like EMERGE.
Sheryl highlights the tension many woman feel, but it goes beyond just feeling and actually is supported by sociologic studies. Two professors Frank Flynn and Cameron Anderson did the most shocking study. They used a real life business case of a successful entrepreneur and the only thing they changed was the first name in the case. One case had “Howard” and one case had “Heidi.” When they surveyed the students on their perceptions, Howard was much more likeable. Heidi, on the other hand was “seen as selfish and not ‘the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’”
These biases are present everywhere. Even starting in grade school with bullying. I work as a pediatrician and recently saw a twelve-year old patient who was contemplating taking her life. She was being so harassed at school that she had gotten to a breaking point. When we sat down to talk about some of the name calling and teasing it came down to this- she was one of the best students in the class and it was upsetting the other students. This story and so many others serve as a wake up call that things need to change.
The first issue becomes awareness. Just acknowledging that these external factors influence success is key. It is also important to realize that internal barriers can hold us back- internal barriers set up by ourselves as a defense mechanism to protect against not being liked. Being tuned into this is a big step to reach for more challenge. But true change comes when we start to redefine the stereotypes. When generations do not judge based on ingrained biases of what women and men should be like, but see both genders with the potential to be great leaders.
Emerge is helping to turn this tide. The women in this program are truly exceptional and leading change all over California. So this is my challenge to you all:
Lean In: Into fear and go for it anyway
Sit At The Table: You earned it
Take The Leap: To run for office
And Dance: Because it is so much fun!