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From left, Emily Graham, Eve Hart and Liz Firer-Gillespie at UBC’s Sauder School of Business in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
From left, Emily Graham, Eve Hart and Liz Firer-Gillespie at UBC’s Sauder School of Business in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Female MBAs on Sheryl Sandberg: It’s like ‘having someone in my corner’ Add to ...

Hart: Sandberg claims that “being liked is a key factor in both professional and personal success” and then teaches us how by thinking personally and acting communally women can achieve that. Like myself, she struggled (and probably still does) with the fear of not being liked. Here she confused me. Aren’t we trying to break the stereotypes that slow us down? I think concentrating so much on how to be liked in negotiations is working against what she wants women to achieve professionally and personally.

Graham: I felt Sandberg was showing how we need to keep the end goal in mind. If I have to smile to get that raise, I’m going to put Vaseline on my teeth if that’s what it takes!

Firer-Gillespie: A lot guys have no concept of the privilege they receive just for being men. Sandberg talks about trying to fit in by smoking a cigar and how uncomfortable it made her. And, sadly, because that’s where so much networking gets done, you have to decide, do I participate or not?

Graham:I have started taking golf lessons because I know how important it is for management to go golfing.

Firer-Gillespie: We’re actually arranging a golf day for the women in our class complete with instruction.

Sandberg stressed that women need to choose their partners carefully. She tells an anecdote about a young woman who tested potential spouses by saying she had to cancel a date for work and seeing how he reacted. Good advice?

Graham: I’m generally opposed to “tests,” but definitely had to admit to the value in that one.

Firer-Gillespie: I think that portion of the book was one of the most reassuring. I’m planning on having a child after the program is done and I’ve gone round and round on timing, what to tell people, and more importantly, how was I going to balance it all. I’m going to stop worrying so much and just trust that I’ll work it out.

Hart: I joke that I’ll just give birth in the board meeting and have a nursery at the office! My mom was building her own business when I was very young and I did miss her a lot. But I realize now that it was not the fact that she was away so much, but the fact that when she was home she continued to worry about work. I think it’s important to keep quality in everything you do and live in the moment.

Sandberg makes the case that with more women in leadership roles the environment will change. She even mentions Marissa Mayer, who was criticized for only taking a few weeks off when she had a baby – but that was her choice, Sandberg argues, and one she didn’t impose on other parents at Yahoo. But now look what’s happened: Mayer has called a halt to flexible work arrangements by forcing everyone to come into the office – and she’s been soundly criticized for it, more so because she has a nursery next to her own office. Fair? Do female executives have a larger responsibility in this areas?

Graham: I think it’s unfair for anyone, man or woman, to dictate how other people should work. If Marissa Mayer doesn’t want to take time off work, that’s her choice, I have no problem with that, but she needs to understand that different people have different priorities. She’s making her working environment into something that works better for men than women.

Firer-Gillespie: I think Meyer made a huge mistake by curtailing the flexible work environment. I think Sandberg said it best when she pulled from General Powell. As long as you’re available when you’re needed, you’re getting your work done, and done well, then why should it matter where you work from? And, I think it was particularly disingenuous for her to make that decision when she has a nursery next to her office. That double standard does nothing to help women, or men who want to balance their work and personal lives better.

Graham: In my family, my mom always earned more than my dad, and it was something we were just not supposed to talk about. Finding a partner who is really a partner, not just a spouse, has always seemed very improbable to me… But Sandberg’s given me a glimmer of hope.

Looking ahead, is there something you’ll do differently having read Lean In?

Graham: I’ve already bookmarked the section about negotiating.

Firer-Gillespie: I’m going to remember [her asking] ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’

Hart: It’s about preparation and also about having guts. My partner always tells me: “How would you act differently if you had one million dollars in your pocket?” so I just imagine that I have nothing to lose.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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