Lean In, Lean Back or Stand Tall?

 

Yesterday I was surprised to see a feature about women’s ‘real’ feelings about work on the front page of The New York Times.

Surprised because the front page naturally favors breaking news or lately, daily worldwide unrest. And surprised because instead of the usual fawning over female Celeb CEO’s like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, this story by Catherine Rampell followed Sara Uttech from Falls River, Wisconsin, who simply wanted to be successful enough so that she could be a wife, a mom, a professional communicator and a woman she was happy to meet in the mirror.

Turns out Sara had ‘made it’ but had made the choice to ask for a flexible schedule. By working every possible angle and hour, she managed not to miss any of the six ballgames her three kids play every week, no mean feat. Now, Sara is lucky. She has a supportive husband, a job that requires little travel, plus she has a responsive manager and her firm is run by a woman with an open mind. Having no kids myself, the boss’s story also touched me, since she acknowledged that despite being childless, her own personal life deserved flex time too. No matter how keenly felt by moms, flexibility isn’t only a mother’s issue, it’s a human one. But we can be our own worst enemies.

According to the Families and Work Institute, only 37% of women and 44% of men actually want a job with more responsibility and yet, we can’t stop leaning in till it kills us. As I travel to speak, I still find women resisting the idea of downshifting, not because of financial limitations but for ego.

Some of the linked-in women’s career groups frankly scare me. In a recent posted question, “Is it okay to be happy where you’re at?” (I still can’t get over the careerist dangling her “at”, but… ), most of the commenting women declared they will never be satisfied until they get the next bigger job. When did “happy” become a synonym for surrender? At a recent speech, I described my own reinvention of a more livable work/life, and one woman raised her hand and asked, “Wait…are you saying the only difference between your busy life then and now, is that now you’re happy?” Well, yeah. That would be the difference. Isn’t it time that we stop defining fulfillment only in the elusive corner office (been there, my friends…it isn’t that pretty) or flex-time as tantamount to opting out, and that we find that center place where we stand tall and seek ‘enough’ space to live happily ever after? Wouldn’t we love to be in that front-page story?

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Building the “Us, Us, Us Generation”

Chelsea’s take:

Ever since the “Me, Me, Me Generation” cover of TIME, conversation about the clash among generations has become even sharper. I believe the discord is really due to a lack of trying to understand one another. Collectively our entrenched behaviors have formed a gap we now struggle to close.

So many times we desire to connect to someone who is different from us (may it be age, lifestyle, race or economic class), but fear and insecurities keep us from stretching outside of our comfort zone to build a bridge. We make up excuses and stay frozen on our side of the chasm.

My relationship with Mary Lou crossed the generation gap long ago, and I’ve been able to step into a new realm of opportunities. As our lives became more woven together, we’ve taken on new adventures, building bridges in the most unusual ways.

This morning we both crossed “early morning yoga in Washington Square Park” off our bucket lists. Maybe that doesn’t seem like an “adventure”, but we could have come up with a slew of undone to-dos to keep us from Namaste-ing while getting misted by the park’s fountain.

Maybe the lesson to learn is that it’s easier to connect by starting with small and personal steps, rather than imagining we are so far apart.  No one ever said adventures have an age minimum or expiration date.

Mary Lou’s take:

I sit in the lucky chair across from Chelsea, where every day I get a front row seat to Gen Y in action. While articles like the “Me, Me, Me Generation” fire up my peers to dig in their heels to sneer, “See, they aren’t like we were!,” I can’t let them get away with it. I watch Chelsea’s way of living life with open eyes and arms and embracing the unknown with a relish that I admit I have sometimes tucked away– out of my ‘been there/done that’ attitude or just the excuse of no time or another iced coffee.

So while I brag about Chelsea’s joyous and brave approach to life, I find that I am in the stands, cheering her on as she goes to the deep end of the pool. Sure, I do my own high dive’s, but more often than not, maybe I am guilty of what my Mom called “Big talk, little do.” When Chelsea sent me the link to the free yoga class, I waffled. Maybe I will look goofy. Maybe I should just sleep in. But her “why not” approach– which is what makes Millenials so appealing and perhaps un-nerving to others, convinced me. And this morning, wordless but totally connected, we down-dogged side by side, two women, just stretching under the sun. What gap? How easy was that?

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A Personal Letter to Disney: Be Brave

There is a storm brewing with the Disney release of a toy line featuring its first truly ‘brave’ heroine, Princess Merida. Seems that in an effort to appeal traditionally to little girls’ doll tastes, the rough and tumble star of “Brave” has lost weight, filled out her too tight gown and adopted that doe-eyed sparkle princess look….the look and the life that the animated Merida despised.

I will let anthropologists and psychologists dissect why this is right or wrong. Or just cowardly.

I will turn instead to my own experience, watching the animated film alongside a 7 year old redhead named Soleil.  From the moment that Merida, the cartoon ginger wild child, picked up her bow and galloped through the woods, Soleil’s heart pounded in the saddle alongside her heroine. Proud, cheering, valiant.

For once, the story wasn’t about a cookie-cutter forgotten waif lifted by a prince to a palace. This was true grit, the kind of beauty any girl with guts can achieve. The knowing eyes, the powerful stance, the in-your-face joy of being a girl alive in her own skin spoke to Soleil. And the hair, the untamed, boundless curls that said, “Remember me!” Go ahead, Disney, give our real ‘brave’ Merida a sparkly crown. We need her in the Magic Kingdom. But don’t mess with her curls or her curves or her courage.

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Making a big leap after 40?

MLQ signing humbnail

Got a career dream waiting in your pocket? Most of us do. In 1998, I took a big step to achieve mine and Just Ask a Woman was the result. And the dreams keep growing. Hope you enjoy this piece published today on LearnVest, the fantastic financial support site for young women. Read it HERE!

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Seeing through the Lululemon Recall

Officially the stupidest quote on a product recall. “The truth of the matter is the only way you can actually test for the issue is to put the pants on and bend over.” Lululemon Athletica CEO Christine Day on how to detect the see-through snafu revealed in the chain’s $94 yoga pants. (And sorry, but this comment is even worse coming from a female CEO.)

I have been a Lulu fan since first discovering them on a trip to Vancouver for my book tour in 2005. Like every new devotee, I raved about the pants—the fit, the fabric, the magical way they made every woman’s butt look toned. Well, it seems the pants worked a little too well, offering a front row seat to unsuspecting back ends.

With their earnings in free fall and stores in a scramble to pull the transparent Luon pants from the shelves, women are running straight to Athleta and Title IX and with particular glee, back to Target and any of the zillion retailers selling yoga pants without a rear view window for less than half the price. Too many of us lost our shirts and our common sense when we bought into Lulu’s high-priced mantra of Luon. And having been taken, we aren’t about to ‘bend over’ again. Wait, you say it’s just business, Ms. Day? Nope, this is quite personal.

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Watch Three Generations React to “Makers” on PBS

This week, PBS aired a groundbreaking (and we hope, award-winning!) documentary called “Makers” tracing the journey of women from the awakening of the feminist movement through to today. Chelsea, a prime Gen Y woman and I, a member of the class of ’75, gathered a group of ten women to watch together and weigh in. We invited representatives from all different life stages; a college senior getting ready to transition to the professional world, recent graduates starting careers, newlyweds looking forward to starting a family, empty nesters and life-reinventors.

Our living room of new and old friends represented the movers, shakers and MAKERS of today. This video captures the conversation that just wouldn’t quit—inspired, candid and as women are, openly engaging. Listen in!

 

As Chelsea said, “It’s easy for Gen Y women to forget how many doors had to be knocked down in order for us to be standing where we are today.

We may not have lived through the height of the women’s movement in the 60’s and 70’s, but the energy that was generated then certainly lives within all of us now. Unfortunately the road to equality is still lined with roadblocks, detours and “Do Not Enter” signs. It’s now up to our generation. We each have to ask ourselves—what are the issues and values that I want to stand up for to make a difference for myself, my peers and future generations? When that answer comes, you will be ready to make your mark.”

Sent from both of us with love and with thanks to June, Joanna, Erin, Kelley, Amy, Nidia, Alexis and Maggie.

Mary Lou and Chelsea

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Weighing in on Leaning In and Sheryl Sandberg

 

The news of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In” hit the front page of The New York Times this week. But how will it affect the way women, especially younger women look at work? My blog on today’s Huffington Post gives my two cents. Enjoy, comment, like, disagree…whatever. Love to hear from you! Or leave a comment on Huff Po!

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5 Reasons Women Talk More than Men

On TODAY today, Andrea Canning hosted a segment about why women talk more than men, see it here. New research indicates that women may actually over-index on a brain protein linked to language, called FOXP2.

Of course, the piece concluded with lots of irate husbands on the street complaining that their wives never shut up and in-studio banter about who talks more and ‘Chatty Cathy’ defense. After listening to thousands of women–especially my besties–talk over the years, I know they talk more than most men. (I sure do!)

I have used the ‘women talk 20,000 words to men’s 7,000 words’ stat but never knew about the protein rationale. Here are my five unscientific reasons why women talk more:

1. They notice more and therefore, have more content to share. And they want you to know it.

2. As a gender that feels unlistened to, they figure, if I just talk more, something has to get through!

3. They like to tell stories and provide context rather than just ‘get to the point’ as they are so often (annoyingly) told to do.

4. Talking is therapy and connection. By talking, I am soothing, sharing, being alive with you. Silence is often a signal that something is wrong. Unless it’s during savasana, which means, ahh.

5. If they are like me, talking is a way to fill in the sentences that others leave unfinished. Because others don’t talk fast enough. And we know what they are going to say anyway!

The good news for marketers is that women are the talking gender AND the buying gender. Silent types can’t help you figure out your marketing problems. Talkers can. A person of few words, like “Me, too!” isn’t a great help to you. A talker is, and your best talkers are….women.

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Women’s Gains and Losses January 4, 2013

I admit that I read the news every day with a female bias. After studying women for so long, I can’t help that my eyes always search for the women’s angle of every story. Today I didn’t have to look far. The big news flash was the photo of the largest ever number of women in Congress (101 across both houses.) The group shot of them in their bright red and blue suits was quite inspired.

But today’s obituaries told an even more inspirational story. Four amazing, largely unsung women died–all women who carved major ground for important reasons, without cameras flashing or twitterscape buzz. The youngest was Rebecca Tarbotton, 39, an environmentalist who, among other achievements, got Disney to reduce its use of paper cut from rainforests. Catherine O’Neill, 70, grew up as the daughter of immigrant parents, to become a leading advocate for the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women. Jayne Cortez, 78, was a jazz poet, a central figure of the Black Arts Movement with a talent for lyrics decrying violence against women. And finally, at 92, we lost Gerda Lerna, a pioneering feminist who is the reason women’s history even exists as a field of study. A rebel with a cause from her escape from Nazi Germany, she applied her drive and brilliance on behalf of women everywhere.

I just wanted to pause to take it in. Not just the idea that women are front and center in the Senate and the House. But that so many women are working tirelessly under the radar to make a better world. No votes. No credit. No sound bites. Just hard work, talent and heart. Women’s work…my kind of headlines.

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What Makes a Mom


 

Yesterday, I performed my one woman show “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story” at the day’s end of the annual Marketing to Moms conference in Chicago. At the start, I could tell that the audience of women, most of them moms who had sat through 9 hours of PowerPoint slides and impassioned speeches…were tuckered out. And cocktails beckoned from the next room.

These colleagues of mine are experts in their own right, devoted to the power mothers of America. What could a play teach them? Turns out that love and loss and hope and mother/daughter bonds trump theory and marketing trends. At least that’s what their tears and laughter showed me.

Why should marketers care about digging into the personal lives of women? Because that is where the truth is. Not at a desk. Or from an armchair. Or the back of a focus group room. In our hearts. Crossing that boundary from marketer to actor was worth the risk.

Have to say, I didn’t need a PowerPoint to tell a love story.  Neither do Moms.

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March 23, 2017
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Go There

press & praise