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Kunin: Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer

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http://www.vpr.net//audio/programs/56/2013/03/Kunin-0314 Sheryl Sandberg_031413_Madeline Kunin_.mp3

(Host) Former Vermont Governor and commentator Madeleine Kunin has been thinking about what women need to become leaders in government and industry. She thinks there are still some fundamental issues that must be addressed at the policy level.

(Kunin) The debate about women in the workplace hit a new decibel level when two top executive women in the high tech world added their two cents - or should I say billions - to the discussion.

Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook fame, has been making waves about her new book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She writes that more women need to be in leadership. She places the responsibility to get to the top almost entirely on women themselves.

She urges women to be more demanding, confident and ambitious. She's half right. Women must developa firm handshake, a confident voice, and the courage to ask for a promotion without hesitating.

But women have to do more than advocate for themselves. They have to use their voices in the workplace to push for sensible family friendly policies that will make it more feasible for all working women and men to manage their work lives and their family lives without sacrificing one to the other.

That's why I wish that Marissa Mayer, the new Mom CEO of Yahoo had not only solved her predicament when she had a new baby, by constructing a nursery next to her office, but that she had paid attention to the women(and increasingly men) who work for her. Instead, she proudly took only two weeks of maternity leave and banished off site work arrangements which enable many families to achieve that near impossible nirvana of work/life balance.

Until recently, female CEO's have been more understanding than their male counterparts, of the stress that new mothers experience to do it all, which often means, all by themselves. Why? They've been there. They understand the policies needed to keep women in the workforce.

One reason the United States is one of only three countries in the world that do not have any form of paid maternity leave is that many American business leaders, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose any family friendly policies is that they scare people into thinking maternity leave will be a job killer.

Other growing businesses are discovering that the opposite is true - companies that provide family friendly policies have less turnover, higher shareholder return and greater profitability.

Women business leaders have an opportunity to add their voices to the Yea Sayers, instead of the Nay Sayers. Fair treatment in the work force is no longer exclusively a labor issue, nor is it a women's issue - it is a fundamental economic issue. Women's contribution to the economy has surged in recent years. Every time a woman leaves the workforce because she can't find or afford childcare, or she can't work out a flexible arrangement with her boss, or she has no paid maternity leave, her family's income falls down a notch. Simultaneously, national productivity numbers decline.

Global female leaders, like Mayer and Sandburg are positioned to add heft to the argument that investing in family friendly policies, improves the bottom line. They can begin by setting an example with their own families.