“Don’t let someone else define what ‘having it all’ means for you,” said Leslie Griles, one of five panelists at Thursday’s “Women, Leadership, and Leaning In” discussion. During the discussion of Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” Griles was quick to point out her choice to lean out of her first career, lobbying in Washington, D.C., when she didn’t see a happy future for herself in it. Griles is now the director of outreach partnerships at The Mom Complex and The Martin Agency.
Ukrop Auditorium in the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business was nearly full with women, both students and professional community members, and a few men for the event. Although Griles said she thought, in general, women do not lean in enough, she said there was an unintended pressure in Sandberg’s book for women to lean in, making them feel like they should want to rise to the top. But, as she pointed out several times throughout the discussion, it is important to ask yourself, “What does leaning in mean to me?”
Alongside Griles in the panel was Katie Gilstrap, the CEO and co-founder of Lift Caregiving and an adjunct professor in the business school; Gail Letts, chief lending officer, Richmond region president and executive vice president for C&F Bank; Bill Bishop, an assurance partner and managing partner of the Richmond office at PricewaterhouseCoopers; and Crystal Hoyt, a leadership and psychology professor as well as the coordinator of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Richmond.
Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the business school, monitored the event by asking questions about Sandberg’s book for the panelists to discuss. After the discussion, Bagranoff said the event had gone well, in part because of the “richly diverse panel” that brought different perspectives to the issue.
“They weren’t just echoing each other,” she said. “That the best kind of panel.”
One issue the panel discussed was the continued unequal distribution of men at the top levels of corporations and companies, even though women’s representation in universities and in the workforce has been equal for many years now.
Gilstrap said during her banking career, which she left to start her own company, she had found that the phrase “birds of a feather flock together” held true in business relationships as well. People look to befriend and mentor other people whom they relate to or who are similar to them, she said. Since men are currently in those top, executive positions, they are more likely to find a younger man to befriend and prepare for a higher level position, she said.
“The people that were rising to the top were friends with the people who were managing them,” Gilstrap said. “I wasn’t able to talk about what life was like on the golf course and we weren’t able to have that same connection.”
Hoyt said the social psychology research she conducts supported that idea. There are subtle gender biases inherent in leadership roles, and the process of choosing the person to put in a high-level leadership role allows those biases to creep in, she said.
“We don’t maybe expect as much from women,” Hoyt said, “so when women start showing that they’re really good at these top-level, requisite attributes, we’re very impressed. So, more women make short lists than do men.
“But, when we want proof that they’re going to do it—that is, ‘Are we going to offer them the job?’—we hold higher standards…We redefine the merit of the position based on these expectations that we have.”
The panelists spoke for a little more than an hour, taking their last few questions from people in the audience. Those in attendance were receptive and responsive to the panelists’ discussion, occasionally nodding their heads in agreement and laughing at the panelists’ humorous comments. Several students and some community members stayed after the event had ended to talk with the panelists.
Contact staff writer Maggie Burch at email@example.com