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This Tech Executive Wants All Women To Lean Out. Here's Why

5min read
Career

Rhonda Vetere is an international executive, speaker, author, and triathlete. And, if all that wasn't enough, she is also a significant figure in supporting women across the globe and "empowering women and girls to seize their moments and share their passions with the world."


You might say she likes to keep busy.

Vetere was recently interviewed by Fox Business about the role of women in technology, and as the former CTO of Estée Lauder Companies and leading IT professional, she is most definitely an expert in the matter. In this interview they touch upon various topics, such as user privacy, women in leadership, and her new book Grit & Grind: 10 Principles For Living An Extraordinary Life. One of the thorough lines of Grit & Grind is the importance of leaders and mentors for the next generation of employees, and when asked about how managers can help bring up the women who work for them, she responded "Put them in uncomfortable positions, give them assignments that are global, get them out there, mobile, and get them to, what I call, lean out."

We are all familiar with the famous words of Sheryl Sandberg: "Lean in." It's a book, a global community, and suddenly it has also become a big point of contention for women in our culture. What was once extolled as the answer to all of women's workplace troubles is now being questioned in a big way. Michelle Obama said it herself, "It's not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn't work all the time." This best-selling author, successful mother, licensed lawyer, former first-lady, and all-around incredible human being doesn't believe that leaning in is the answer for everyone. And it's not just controversies that are leading to this cultural change of heart; it's simply the fact that women are tired of being told how to behave.

Lean in is a way of instructing women how to smash their way into the business world using certain, prescribed behaviors to better succeed in a patriarchal corporate system slated against them. Now, I'm always down for some patriarchy smashing, but it's time to do it on our own terms. Marissa Orr, author of upcoming book, Lean Out, The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace, describes the old paradigm of thinking as "essentially [telling women] to behave more like men." This condescending idea that women somehow don't know how to behave themselves is tied to the "highly dysfunctional system" that has allowed forced women to take a back seat in business for years. But women like Orr and Vetere are beginning to change things, and "lean out" is going to be crucial in how the upcoming generation of women succeed in the corporate world.

So, what is leaning out all about? For Rhonda Vetere it is more than just a business strategy, it is a way of life, and it touches upon everything that she does. A huge part of lean out stems from Vetere's own history of taking risks, keeping mobile, and learning from every single experience. She understands what it's like to be the lone woman in a board room full of men, and she is deeply passionate about making sure women are not used as mere "tokens," simply to be slotted into one position or another. Rather she believes in empowering women throughout their careers by giving them opportunities to challenge themselves, driving performance and getting the results that they are truly capable of. As a mentor and leader to many, Vetere exemplifies the idea that courageous leadership is crucial to dynamic change and encouraging women to lean out.

She credits much of her personal philosophy and the strength of leaning out to the experiences she's had and the challenges she has faced while working abroad in locations such as Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and London, saying "If I had stayed in one spot, I wouldn't be the person, the professional, and the leader that I am today."

By going global and getting out of her own comfort zones, Vetere has grown immeasurably and she wants to encourage other women to do the same. "Lean in reminds me of just [going with the flow, but] in my head it's always been about getting stuff done, taking those risks, taking on hard assignments, and growing." Vetere was an early pioneer in women breaking out of traditional business roles; she understands that this is no longer the same generation that stays in one job for 20-30 years. From early on in her career she has continued to be unafraid in making big moves, allowing herself to learn and grow in a wide range of positions. Succeeding in business as a woman no longer has to mean acting like a man or restricting yourself with out-of-date ideologies.

"Lean in reminds me of just [going with the flow, but] in my head it's always been about getting stuff done, taking those risks, taking on hard assignments, and growing."

Rhonda VetereCourtesy of Studio 5800

Lean out means getting out of the "standard flow," utilizing the power within yourself to take risks and never stop learning. Women in the workplace are a force to be reckoned with, and it's time we start leaning out to face that challenge head on, wherever it may lead us. The strength is already there, and Vetere is helping women tap into it, at last: "You empower yourself every day. How you channel your energy is what is important."

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
4min read
Lifestyle

Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.


Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."