Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and other women who write business books that focus on women’s issues are hurting their own crusade with all their complaining. The advice they should be meting out to women is this: Stop whining and do your job.
That’s the unapologetic view of Lori Ann LaRocco, a senior talent producer at CNBC and author of the new book, “Opportunity Knocking: Lessons from Business Leaders.” LaRocco’s third book on business leadership in four years, “Opportunity Knocking” shares a readily noticeable characteristic with her first two: They’re business books written by a woman, and yet they don’t have anything to do with gender issues.
My observation has been that a lot of women who write books about business focus on themes that are meant to empower women in the business world. A few examples include Sandberg’s blockbuster “Lean In,” Vickie Milazzo’s “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman,” and Becky Blalock’s “Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge.”
I spoke with LaRocco last week, and I asked her if she’s found that to be the case with female authors of business books, as well. She said she has. In fact, the question seemed to have struck a nerve. It was clear from the get-go that LaRocco has zero patience for crusading female authors in general, and for Sandberg in particular.
“When it comes to Sheryl Sandberg, I think she’s just salacious, because she wants to sell the book,” LaRocco said. “I think a lot of times, when you try to put a moniker on it that it’s for women only, in some ways it kind of backfires.”
LaRocco was especially critical of Sandberg’s high-profile campaign to ban the word “bossy.”
“I think when you throw out words like “bossy” or “bitchy” or stuff like that, it kind of takes away from the issue,” she said. “What drives me crazy about that is that it sounds like we’re whining—it fuels the stereotype of women whining. If you do your job, and you do it well, there’s no reason to put the focus on those terms.”
LaRocco was on a roll.
“Just do your job, and you’ll be recognized,” she said. “Will you be recognized to the fullest? Who knows? But I think when it comes to those types of books, it just comes across as whining. I think it hurts their ‘crusade’ of making women powerful. Stop complaining.”
She suggested that some female business authors are simply more comfortable engaging with other females.
“Is it intimidating to talk to a very successful businessman? Maybe,” she said. “But you know what? They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like I do. So I try not to make it gender-focused, because I think, honestly, this whole ‘war against females’ is kind of old, and it’s extremely outdated. And I think it’s just a way to sell books.”
The format of all three of LaRocco’s books is a series of profiles of business leaders. By my count, in her first two books—“Thriving in the New Economy” and “Dynasties of the Sea”—she profiled a total of 45 people, and only three of them were women. LaRocco said there’s nothing to be made of that.
“It’s just the way it worked out,” she said. “I pick people who I feel will tell a good story—I want to pick the brains of people I think you will find interesting. Business is not boring—business is interesting. It’s about personalities, and if I can bring that personality to you, and you can learn from that, then I have done my job.”
LaRocco said she likes the profile format, because “you get to meet these people the way I get to meet them.” In “Opportunity Knocking,” she used the format to illustrate her “opportunity pyramid”—seven strategies for success that are presented as successive layers built on a fortified foundation. The first six layers were illustrated by profiles of men. A layer having to do with “stoking your inner passion,” for example, was illustrated by a profile of former AOL chairman and CEO Steve Case.
“You need passion to get you through the highs and lows in life. And Steve Case, as you know, has had very high highs, and very low lows.” LaRocco said. “It’s the passion that fuels your determination to get where you are.”
LaRocco mentioned, incidentally, that Case spoke with her about AOL’s interest at one point in buying Apple.
“Steve told me he was thinking about buying Apple, and back then, in theory, he could have—it wasn’t well-performing at all,” she said. “Can you imagine what Apple would be today if AOL had purchased it, way back when?”
Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the seventh and top layer of the opportunity pyramid, called “Think Ahead: World Domination,” was illustrated by profiles of three women—the cofounders of BlogHer, a site that focuses on news and trends among women in social media. LaRocco said there was nothing to be read into that, either.
“When it comes to world domination, I thought that the three founders of BlogHer were great,” she said. “If you create something, and you are the best at what you can do, why in the world would you want to pass that baton off to someone else so they can become more successful, based on your hard work? They’re constantly tasking themselves, and making themselves better so they can maintain that world-domination status.”
The fact that these three individuals are women, LaRocco said, isn’t the point.
“It’s pretty black and white. You want to achieve world domination, and you want to be absolutely the best you can be—it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female,” she said. “I don’t think business has labels like that—it shouldn’t have labels. If you’re good at what you do, regardless of your gender, you’re going to succeed.”