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2012 DSA Annual Meeting Speech

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Mary Kay, Leaning In, & Women In Business

Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In," was written to provoke women in corporate America to aggressively pursue success by speaking up, raising hands and not backing down.  It has become a national dialogue now, as it seems I can't open my Facebook or LinkedIn accounts without seeing friends/connections share another article about it.  I can't help but notice that the dialogue is about opportunities that are there for the taking, but one must have the courage to pursue them as they come, when they come up.  We are having a dialogue about "how" to land the opportunity.

It puts me in mind of another time, in the mid 90's, the first time I met Mary Kay Ash.  After being hired as President of Mary Kay Germany, I went to Dallas to meet the founder of the company, to hear her story, her advice, her wisdom.  Above all, she was wise.  She was, and still is, a legend.

I met her in the lobby, as she and I were both coming from separate meetings, and we rode up the elevator to her office to meet.  On the way up, she started to tell her story of how she entered corporate America.  She mentioned that when she was brought in to become a corporate trainer, she got the distinct impression that she was there to train, and entertain the men who were in the corporation.  Serious, upward moving career?  Not so much.  In fact, it was when she trained and hired a male executive who she thought was going to report to her, but later bacame her boss, that she leaned in, and told them she would not train another boss.  She told them she could do the job as well as, or better, than the man they had just promoted.   When the company would not promote Mary Kay, we know what happened.  She took her meager savings, leaned out, and started her own company.  She was telling me all this in the time it took to ride in the elvator and walk to her office.

I must admit I wondered why Mary Kay would tell me a story that I could easily have read (and had) in her book.  But as I settled in on her pink couch facing her, she had a reason.  She wanted me to know that things don't always work out even when you lean in, that you can hit that "glass ceiling".  Her advice was to follow your instincts, do what is right for you, and not let others determine your destiny.  Most of all, she knew that women didn't even need anyone to create a glass ceiling, that they can do it all by themselves, by not having the confidence to do something about their own destiny.  This was the message she had delivered to field leaders in Germany when awarding them their red Team Leader jackets, and she wanted to be sure I would deliver it, too.  

Mary Kay's message resonated, and still resonates today.  It is interesting to note that the conversation has just changed slightly from not being allowed an opportunity, to not seizing it when it appears.  

Mary Kay's office on the 13th Floor is still beautifully maintained as it was when I first met her.


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