In the past month, a plethora of opinions have surfaced surrounding the recent news-worthy actions of Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook fame, who released a new book and website aimed at helping women better compete and succeed in the workplace, and Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, who summarily ended all work-at-home options for Yahoo! employees while building out a private at-work nursery for her own baby. The posts have traveled the gamut of scathing reprimands to supportive arguments.
The one consistent thread is that while women may present a single front on the us-versus-them challenge of combating sexism in the professional world, we fiercely resist being defined by other women. Whether we’ve decided to completely exit the work world to raise a family or go full-force ahead with a singular focus of climbing the corporate ladder – or something in between or completely different – we all want to protect our right to make our own decisions for our own circumstances and not have those options limited by the actions or choices of other women.
The truth for myself is that neither Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer accurately define my values or goals. And neither will likely move forward with an agenda that parallels my own, because both have defined their own meaning of success in very different ways than I want to. But because of their proximity to the limelight, I, like most women, tend to become invested in their success and to speak out when their own path deviates from what will support my own. When our icons deviate from our goals, we feel betrayed.
One of my goals as a founder of a woman-owned tech company is to promote a culture that helps women define their own roles and to build a network of support all along the path. I have definitely dealt with some pretty shocking sexism on my own journey, but just as I refuse to allow that to define me or my ability to achieve my own goals, I also believe it is just as important that I support the goals of other women who may define success very differently than I do.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the myriad reactions are a good thing, because it is evidence that as women, we don’t need icons. We need the right to define our own journey, and speaking out in favor or against those in the limelight. Just as a choir has more than one melody, and the harmonious blending of those voices is far more beautiful, our collection of opinions help us keep the road to success broad enough to encompass all of us.