Xerox CEO Offers Some Unusual Advice For Women

I dont usually do editorials, but in this case I couldn’t help myself. I came across an article today from the March 20th Wall Street Journal titled Xerox CEO Ursula Burns Has Advice for Ambitious Women. I clicked into it hoping to find some inspiration, and instead I got a heaping spoonful of WHAT THE ____!

Ursala Burns

Here are the bullet points (more info in the article) of the advice she offers to young women for achieving their career goals:

Find a good (older) husband.

Redefine work-life balance.

Be selfish sometimes.

Don’t take guilt trips.

Don’t take life too seriously.

I dont know if it’s just me, and I really hope this blogs’ comment section is filled with your thoughts, but I stand with WHAT THE ____! FIND A GOOD (OLDER) HUSBAND? DON’T TAKE LIFE TOO SERIOUSLY? I feel insulted by it! 

hang_in_there_cardUrsala Burns is the FIRST African-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and this is the best advice she has for young women? What about thoughts on over coming obstacles, or believing in yourself, or learning how to work with others who might not respect you, or leading during tough times? Ms. Burns’ advice seems more like a “Hang in There” Hallmark card than wisdom acquired from her rise to CEO. I just cannot believe her career was this kumbaya, and the majority of women I have known throughout my career have had to prove themselves above and beyond for every rung on the ladder they climbed. 

If you receive our monthly newsletter, hopefully you are aware of a blog series Chris Echevarria is contributing on mentorship for women in the print industry, though it would certainly apply to any industry. Since Ms. Burns doesn’t offer advice on this subject, here are the three blogs to date for you to read:  Who needs a mentor?     So now that you have a mentor . . .     Some Qualities Of A Good Mentor

Now the BIG questions… what do you think about Ms. Burns’ advice? And regardless if you are male or female, what would yours be to young women starting on their career path?

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11 Responses

  1. It’s hard to know where to start so let’s try it this way:

    Ms. Burns says “Find a good (older) husband.” … First and foremost, no woman has to have a husband to be successful. It is good to have a core group that you can rely on. They may be family, friends, partners in life… what they are called isn’t important. I am insulted by a piece of advice that says I needed a good older husband to be successful.

    Ms. Burns says “Redefine work-life balance.” … i am not sure what “redefine” means here, but if the advice is to make sure there is a balance, it’s good advice. I am lucky to love what I do. I am lucky that my family has always made it easy forme to do what I love and come along on the adventure.

    Ms. Burns says “Be selfish sometimes.” … If this is career advice I’d take it carefully. Everyone needs “me” time to do sanity checks and decompress, but being “selfish” isn’t what I’d call it. Perhaps it’s a terminology problem. I don’t know Ms. Burns, so maybe she is just saying we all need some time to decompress?

    Ms. Burns says “Don’t take guilt trips.” Guilt is rarely a forward motion. It’s not bad advice. Perhpas I wouldn’t put it in my top 5.

    Ms. Burns says “Don’t take life too seriously.” … If you are building your career I would say that taking it seriously is important. I can’t imagine looking at a protogege and saying “don’t worry, nothing really matters.” Again, maybe I don’t have her context.

    In all, seems like really odd advice from a woman in a seriously powerful role in the print industry. It seems to be almost designed to support the silliness embodied in the Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” book.

    Sort of sad.

  2. WOW, just wow! That is about some of the worst advice I have heard on being a career mom, etc.
    Her #1 piece of advice is to marry a man who is 20 years older than you so that you can work while he retires and stays home with the kids?!? huh?

    I have to say, I don’t know a whole lot about Ms. Burns and her journey to the top of Xerox, but this article, as a first introduction, does not make me think a lot of her. I am, however, not striving to reach the top of the ladder at a mega corporation as Ms. Burns has. Maybe these are prudent tips for those women wanting to achieve such power and status.

    Personally, I want to be at as many of my kids activities as possible, and believe me I have missed some here and there, but that’s the way it goes. I get the feeling that Burns may have missed more than she actually attended with a statement like “Kids are pretty resilient. “You don’t have to be at every volleyball game.” No you don’t have to be at every game and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. But I hope for her kids sake she was there when it mattered the most to them. They will remember.

    One piece of good advice from Burns is that women need to take better care of themselves. I wouldn’t quite say it the same way as she does . . . “Be selfish”. But I do think that it does everyone good when super mom/career woman/wife pencil time for themselves into their own calendar. Take time to go to the gym, get a massage or go out with the girls to name a few things. It definitely renews the spirit and can give you the boost you need to climb up on that next rung!

  3. When I just read the five bullets, I have a “say what?” moment. But after reading the full wsj blog post, I’m not as bothered by what she said. I think she was kidding around about the marrying an older man. It seemed more like a personal anecdote. My own husband is 12 years older than me, but I don’t know if marrying him has helped my career trajectory. It has certainly advanced my knowledge of the Allman Brothers and Dirty Harry movies!

    I agree with Carrie…take care of yourself! “Me time” is imperative.

    For me, the best thing that has happened to my work life is finding great mentors and teachers. Lots of great ones in this industry.

  4. Amy – The Allman Bros/Dirty Harry comment killed me! lolol I agree about the mentors! Check out Chris’ articles when you have a chance, if you havent already 🙂

  5. If this is what represents women at the top, is it any wonder we are disproportionately under represented at this level? When it comes to career goals, I’ll follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and LEAN IN.

  6. While the article may be annoying to a lot of women, I am probably less annoyed than most regarding the comments. Agree with Amy about the “older husband”, in that I think it was tongue-in-cheek. Hey – it worked for her. And I don’t disagree with the rest of her points. Having gone thru two serious illnesses, you do learn that there are many things more important than work.

    I also had a couple of very good mentors (both men), that I learned the biz from on a day to day basis. My sis was also VP of Corporate Communications at a large multi-national company and gave me the best perspective I could have asked for.

    As I mentioned on FB to Deb, I am getting a bit tired of getting bombarded with all of the advice for women… In the long run, everybody has to figure out their own path.

    (Aside to Amy and Deb, been listening to The Allman Brothers since 1971…)

  7. Thought a male perspective may be interesting as it relates to this discussion.

    First I have a great deal of respect for Ms. Burns. I have met her, really don’t know her but she is a gracious and accomplished woman. As far as her views, some I agree with, others not so much, but as noted above it is hard to put into context.

    Find a good (older) husband – Being an older male, I think it is a great idea (LOL). Seriously, as a father this is not advice I would give to my daughters. My wife and I are raising them to be independent and they certainly do not need a husband to be successful. If she falls in love with an older guy, I would certainly support that (as long as he is not too old 🙂

    Redefine work-life balance – Agree, there needs to be balance. As I look back early in my career if I would have had balance I would not have missed some of the moments I can never get back with my kids in the name of advancing my career. (and for money)

    Be selfish sometimes – Agree with above comment, selfish and “me” time to me are two different things but that may be where Ms. Burns was headed.

    Don’t take guilt trips – Agree with this. Feeling guilty if you did something wrong is OK, you should, but don’t make it a trip.

    Don’t take life too seriously – This is part of balance. When someone is early on in their career they need to be serious. If you are working you need to take it serious but not too serious. Just reflecting on my own career I do believe some people are wound too tight and are way too serious. It is not healthy or beneficial long-term. Your job facilitates a lifestyle, it should not be your life.

    One thing that is missing in my opinion, love what you do. If you don’t it will be a log way to retirement.

  8. This is from the actual article –
    Her husband retired, allowing Burns to focus on advancing her career. “So the secret,” she jokes, “is to marry someone 20 years older.”

    Can’t anyone take a joke anymore? People have to speak from their experience, what she is saying that it worked for her.

  9. As a young, successful, woman in business I find it annoying that women in the business world are still “hearing what they want to hear” and automatically assuming a negative connotation instead of stepping back and hearing the true message and the real tone in which its said. These women really need to take #5 to heart and not take life too seriously!

    I do not find this article offensive to women at all. I find it light and cheeky while giving some sound advise to young women trying to balance a progressive career and home life at the same time.

    I’ll only comment on #1. I chose to advance my career before focusing on a family life. A lot of women don’t want that, they want to ladder climb while their husband also tries to ladder climb and raise children all at the same time.

    Burns’ #1 isn’t saying that to be a successful woman in business you NEED to have a husband. She’s saying that IF you choose to raise a family and ladder climb at the same, marry someone who is older who can not only support you from a home life perspective (taking care of the kids, not having a competing career path), but also has the knowledge and skills of an accomplished business person who can offer advice and perhaps be a valuable asset as you advance within your career.

    While I feel she’s making a cheeky statement about her own experience, it’s a valid point and having an older husband helped her get where she is today. This is an alternative to the family/no family choice many of us young business women are faced with when starting or advancing our careers. In this scenario you get to have your cake and eat it too!

  10. It has been an interesting article to digest to say the least. As a few have mentioned here in the comment section, it’s a matter of perspective. What seems to have worked for Ms. Burns doesn’t necessarily work for many women I know and from the looks of it, her advice hasn’t been a lot of help for many women trying to make it to the top of our printing world.

    While the comment about an older husband, commented jokingly, may be a joke, why list it as a top item? Had the comment been the last one listed I think all of us could have sat back and chuckled. Interestingly enough I get the “older” husband bit as mine is 15 years my senior, but I can tell you that in no way has that helped me further my climbing efforts. If anyone helped it was Grandma/Abuela who was there for the kids and for the family making sure everyone was in the right place at the right time.

    And really, does it matter if we have spouses at all? As Pat mentioned, having support from other family members, friends, kids, and mentors can be much more powerful and helpful in getting to the next level. It’s sad to say but I know too many women who’ve been held back by their spouses who didn’t want to be seen as second fiddle to their wives’ careers.

    I completely agree with Skip that really you’ve got to love what you do so that you can get over the hurdles and make it to retirement but you have to take what you do seriously otherwise others won’t take you seriously.

    I would love to know more about Ms. Burns’ rise and how many other folks were there to help her along the way.

  11. nevermind what she said, there are just too many good opinions that left unattended and that many times good opinions to someone may not work for others. Don’t take it too seriously especially to some opinions you don’t trust.