A discussion of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book brings up another, less often mentioned reason for women to be bold in their ambitions — you’ll speed cultural change and improve the lives of female leaders.  

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

It’s Sheryl Sandberg mania out there as the release of Lean In, the new book by the Facebook COO/aspiring feminist icon, generates a media feeding frenzy. She’s on the cover of Time, in nearly every publication (including this one) and appeared on 60 Minutes:

Commentary seems to fall into two rough camps: ‘Atta girl!’ cheers for Sandberg’s willingness to champion women and offer them actionable tips for advancing in their careers, and criticism that her advice boils down to blaming women for their lack of progress when bad corporate and government policy still play an outsize role in limiting their options.

With the debate over women’s ability to “have it all” already so well worn even before Sandberg’s book came out, finding something fresh to say outside of these two reactions is tricky, but the ladies of GigaOM may have managed it. In a long and thoughtful discussion on the book, the women on the tech site’s editorial team unearthed at least one perspective on Sandberg’s injunction for women to “lean in” that has gotten relatively little attention. Managing editor Nicole Solis explains:

The part that rang truest to me was… that men will apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100%. That made me so angry to read — like, physically angry — because that’s a big pattern I’ve seen in my career. And it’s one that has had a big adverse effect on my work.

I honestly can’ tell you all how many times I’ve been asked by my manager to make sure that a man who has performance issues at his job — because he was hired for a job that he was maybe 60% qualified for — succeeds. The man is never told that they need to accept my advice. I am the only one notified of the performance problems — it’s never presented as a significant (i.e. fire-able) issue to the man. So you can guess how the advice goes over, and then who’s held accountable?…

If more women are in management positions and realize that men are going after jobs they’re 60% qualified for, then they’ll stop hiring those guys and go after people who are 80% qualified. If that cultural shift can happen, then women managers can spend more time getting results and less time training up unqualified staff.

Check out the rest of the discussion here, including an interesting back and forth on dealing with double standards.

If your heart says you should follow Sandberg’s advice and apply for that “reach” job or shoot for that seemingly impossible entrepreneurial opportunity, but your nerves still hold you back, then take note of Solis’ experience. Getting over your fear and going for something you’re “only” 80% qualified for won’t just be a personal victory, it’ll also be a step towards the sort of cultural change that makes the lives of female business leaders that much easier. So help them out and go ahead and apply!

Women 2.0 readers: How qualified do you have to be before you’ll attempt to do something?

About the writer: Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.

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