Sandberg v. Finerman: Which Career Building Rules Should you Follow?

by Maggie Freleng

Navigating our way within the workplace is no easy task and this year's buzz-phrase "Lean In" had us all evaluating ourselves or critiquing the women who chose to reveal their views on getting to the top.

Now there's another "bible" advising women in the workplace. Karen Finerman, president of Metropolitan Capital Advisors, Inc., a company she co-founded, gives her two cents in “Finerman's Rules: Secrets I'd Only Tell My Daughters About Business and Life.” 
 Finerman takes a different tone than Sheryl Sandberg's  “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” 

Finerman and Sandberg agree the biggest obstacle women face is ourselves and getting to the top is possible but they differ on how to get there. Finerman and Sandberg’s approaches are drastically different and often confusing for us young women just entering our chosen fields.  For us, deciding which approach to workplace feminism we need and whether getting to the top is more important than our morals is a tough job in itself.

But one thing is clear: We still need feminism in the workplace. Women are 51 percent of the U.S. population and 47 percent of the work force. Yet, it is hard to idly sit by as only 4 percent are CEOs and 17 percent are board members, according to market researcher Catalyst. For us young women entering the workplace this can be bad news, but it also means there is hope. It means we are the ones who can and need to be the change. 

For us young women starting from the bottom it is completely about how we feel about ourselves and what boundaries we set for ourselves to make it to the top.  But in the meantime, here's a recap of some of the rules.


 The biggest difference between Finerman and Sandberg’s advice is the role we want to play for men and how we want to be perceived to get ahead. After all, for now, the men are still the majority of the top. 

 Finerman overall believes kissing up to men is key. She says make yourself noticeable by “using your sexuality” -- putting effort into the way you look and act towards men to get attention. For example, she told MSNBC’s "Morning Joe” that at meetings she felt she stood out more by using flattery and hanging on every word the male CEO said.  Sandberg believes it is crucial for women to assert their confidence, skills, and talent to get ahead, “lean in” don’t lean back.Do we want to push everything we ever learned about gender roles and equality aside to be the empowered woman who plays “the game,” using our assets and sexuality, in essence perpetuating gender roles and sexism, to get ahead? Or do we want to emphasize our brains and overall worth as a team member and an equal?

 Finerman also says a critical stepping-stone to the top is choosing a male mentor over a female mentor. She believes men are more accessible since they are the majority and most of the time the powerful ones at the top. She also advises picking a male mentor with a daughter, since he will see his daughter in us.  However, Sandberg blatantly opposes these notions as one of her book chapters is titled, “Don’t Ask Anyone to be Your Mentor.” Instead, she advises asking for advice -- mentoring is more of a plea, and yes, kissing up -- which she said will endanger more productive relationships. Do we want to be the empowered feminist who sees herself as equal to men and asks for advice on a peer level? Or do we want to flatter men to get ahead?


 Ultimately, this boils down to likeability. For young women entering the force we must consider: do we want to be liked or be strong and powerful, like a lion(ess), if we may. 
In her book Sandberg tells about a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, six months into her job at Facebook. Zuckerberg told her that her desire to be liked by everyone would hold her back. 
 As empowered women we can take this to mean be who we are and don’t be scared of anyone not liking us -- be a roaring lioness. For example, perhaps instead of being light on sexism in the workplace, as Finerman may seem to promote with her use of flirting and sexuality, stand up for your beliefs and morals, no matter where it takes you and no matter who dislikes you for not sucking up to the man.


Lastly, while discussing gender roles, how could we skip over vulnerability and emotions at work? Sandberg says it is OK to cry at work because sharing emotions shows authenticity and builds deeper relationships. However Finerman adamantly disagrees. She said crying at work shows you have completely lost your perspective and lost control. To stay powerful means maintaining control and not showing vulnerability. Take that gender roles, it’s not just boys who don’t cry. 

In the end it is not about who is “right” and “wrong.” Whether you are a Finerman woman or a Sandberg woman, what it comes down to is: what is feminism in the workplace to you?  How will you get ahead?