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Excellent story and advice, Frances. Thanks for sharing.

On another lesson that I learned from Sheryl Sandberg, I recently watched her interview with Oprah Winfrey on Youtube. I was stunned to learn about the Heidi Roizen case study at Harvard Business School by Nicole Tempest and Kathleen McGinn. In short, students read 2 professional biographies of successful venture capitalists that were exactly the same except for the names - one was Howard, and the other was Heidi. The students had very different perceptions about Howard's and Heidi's personalities, especially regarding their compentence and niceness; Howard was viewed more positively than Heidi.

I encourage everyone to watch the video for more details; it's easily searchable.

Eric Cai

The Chemical Statistician

Twitter: @chemstateric

I've had a similar experience. When I started my first company, there was one person in particular who made a big difference in getting me orders. I feel I didn't appreciate it properly at the time. Now I'm starting another company, and have been very dependent on help from another person, although I am also in some ways riding into a head wind as you say.

I think this is important to think about. I think it is the major reason that some groups of people do better economically than others - people are more likely to know and help someone from their own group - ethnic, religious, or whatever. People like native Canadians often lack this sort of help from higher up just because there are few of them in a position to help - a situation which leads to a cycle of poverty.

Eric - yup.

Paul - this is so true. Sandberg acknowledges that things like gender, ethnicity etc matters, but she seems to really genuinely believe that as long as a person excels, he or she will attract mentors. I'm not convinced - I think the ability to attract mentors is a function of both the potential mentee's excellence and also the mentee's personal characteristics. If I have something in common with someone, it's much easier to drop by their office and give or receive useful advice. The conversation might start with "how's the kids' soccer going?" but might end with "oh, by the way, did you get the call for papers for...?"

"If I have something in common with someone, it's much easier to drop by their office and give or receive useful advice."

Sure, but the reality is that most of us have a lot more in common with one another than just being carbon-based life forms and those commonalities cut accross supeficial differences like ethnicity or race. There are probably few offices in Toronto where you couldn't successfully start a conversation with "How about those Leafs...". My current mentee and I differ in race, religion, and politics (although he doesn't know that) but we're both long-suffering Raptors fans.

"I think it is the major reason that some groups of people do better economically than others - people are more likely to know and help someone from their own group - ethnic, religious, or whatever."

See, I think that works the other way. People are often naturally inclined to feel more comfortable with members of their "own" group, but that's an instinctive response that arise from fear or insecurity (let's face it, we're animals). That's not something that drives the mentors - who are generally in a position of security and have little to fear - rather its an instinct that's going to affect would-be mentees. So, it's not that "mentors" are MORE likely to help member of their own group, but that would-be "mentees", or at least would-be "mentees" who are not comfortable interacting with members of other groups, are LESS likely to seek guidance or role models outside their "group" because they're uncomfortable seeking help from "outsiders".

For example, I used to attend student recruitment events where different firms set up a table and try to pitch themselves to their future lawyers. And there were noticeable differences in terms of the ethnic/racial groups that would approach me (typical white guy) to ask questions. There would be no shortable of East Asian or Southeast Asian kids who would approach me to ask about my then firm, what it was like, what kind of work did we do, etc. On the other hand, not one Black or Aboriginal student approached me to ask about the firm. Not surprisingly the former two groups are heavily represented amongst young lawyers on Bay Street, the latter are not.

Bob: "would-be "mentees", or at least would-be "mentees" who are not comfortable interacting with members of other groups, are LESS likely to seek guidance or role models outside their "group" because they're uncomfortable seeking help from "outsiders"."

I suspect there may be a difference here between formal and informal situations. There's an annual Canadian Economics Employment Exchange in Toronto. For many years (I don't know if this is still the case) there was a reception with drinks afterwards where would-be employers and employees would mingle. At the reception, people whose cultural background/life experiences have allowed them to get somewhat comfortable with the idea of standing around and drinking and making small talk were definitely less intimidated by the experience. Even if others try, it's painfully obvious that they're trying, and it's just not the same. Though it's possible to overstate this too - since a lot of the potential employers were also highly uncomfortable standing around, drinking and making small talk, it's not clear that the potential employees' awkwardness really stood out.

This actually raises an issue - one thing that I've done once or twice when preparing economics PhD students for the job market is to give a short course on drinking rules. E.g. the difference between ale and lager, what beers to order/not to order in order to impress one's hosts (would you hire someone who drank Bud Light?). Also useful tips (learned the hard way) for avoiding getting totally smashed at dinner. E.g. if don't want any more wine, put your hand over your glass.

Because law requires such a high level of English or French language fluency, I don't think there are quite so many recent immigrants or people who struggle with English in the program, and that makes a big difference.

Nice post - you made my day!

No similar experiences to share, but I did catch an interview on CBC with Sandberg when she was flogging her book. My overwhelming impression was that she attributed to (her own) ability much that was probably dumb luck. She could just as easily have been at the next pets.com rather than a successful firm. Kinda undermines the notion that she is some kind of sage with wisdom to impart on us lesser (and poorer) mortals. Of course, I'm not the target audience of her book, but my wife didn't think much of the premise, or Sandberg's preaching either, so I feel like I'm in good company :)

Dave - thanks!

Patrick - I think that's a bit harsh. I found chunks of the book quite sad - I'm thinking of the parts when she talks about her kids, and what's an acceptable compromise beween motherhood and career - that all sounds seems foreign to Canadians accustomed to a world of one year maternity/parental leaves and significantly shorter working days. I also don't think she ever really comes to grips with two issues (a) most of us are never going to be highly successful executives, no matter how hard we try and (b) a lot of woman prefer a quiet life to positions of power and authority. Probably some men do, too, but being in a position of authority is in some ways less complicated for men.

Maybe. I only caught the interview, which didn't really deal with her own story.

Keeping in mind that I'm talking about relatively high income households, I probably am a little harsh because, despite their hand wringing, I don't believe that career oriented people really want to spend all that much time being parents to their young children. If they did, they'd arrange their lives so they could (revealed preference?).

I've been a full time parent for more than a year now (an interesting experience as a man, btw), and the fact is that parenting young kids full time is pretty boring most of the time, and it's about as low status a 'job' as there is. Especially for somebody who could otherwise be working on a challenging and lucrative career (that second bit is not me). BTW, as a man nothing gets a small talker at a party to move on like responding "homemaker" to the inevitable "and what do you do? question! The stunned look as their brain reboots is *hilarious*.

Anyway, for relatively high income people who have a choice, the proof is in the choices they make, and I suspect (I admit to having no data) they mostly choose careers. I don't doubt that they genuinely feel conflicted, so I wouldn't go so far to say they are being disingenuous, but it kinda strikes me as the poet who kills her inspiration to sing about the grief.

And for Sandberg, she is worth $10^9. if she was really that conflicted, she could have bailed at, oh I dunno, $500 million? $20 million? $10 million? In my case, she'd be talking to someone who bailed at about -$150K. But maybe that is a little harsh, though I'm sure her kids got great daycare.

Patrick - as an economist, I'm not about to dispute your revealed preference argument.

B.t.w., someone suggested something the other day that I thought was really interesting. He said, when you're trying to make small talk say "What's keeping you busy these days?" The alternative "What do you do?" tends to be embarrassing for people who aren't working full time. But just about everyone has something that's keeping them busy, or at least a little bit busy, or at least can give some kind of answer to that question.

I suspect you'd find it much easier to answer 'What's keeping you busy?" that "What do you do?"

But if they did that I wouldn't get to see the stunned looks! Where's the fun in that?

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