Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean-In is a welcome conversation starter to a topic that has stayed dormant for far too long in the context of women’s advancement in the workplace and in the world. For a few decades now, women (at least in the western world) have been enjoying the freedom and independence of the “shattered glass ceiling.” We are now more educated than ever and have just as much economic buying power as men. On paper, the feminist movement has achieved most of what it set out to accomplish for women – equal rights, equal pay (well, almost), and reproductive rights and freedoms.
Blame it on getting too comfortable, or to a generation removed from the battles won by the feminist movement of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, or on sheer complacency, but for far too long women have been accepting the status quo, which in reality is far from perfect. Thanks to Sandberg, we are reminded that our work isn’t over. We as women still have challenges. By naming and defining a few of what those are, especially for women who want to have it all, Sandberg has opened up the conversation up for debate, and that can only be a move in the right direction when it comes to women’s issues.
As you’ve heard by now, Sandberg’s idea of “leaning-in” consists of a push strategy – one that has us thinking like a man about our career. She coaches us towards giving more to our careers, staying longer in them and persevering through the guilt, shame, and sheer exhaustion women experience when juggling family and career. Her mantras are “equal partnership”, and “don’t leave before you leave.” But are these real solutions to the real challenges for 99% of women who aren’t wired like Sandberg?
For decades since breaking the glass ceiling, women have pressured themselves to “be more like the boys” to compete in a man’s world. This strategy worked up to a certain point, helping us gain respect and prove that we were as competent, capable and intelligent as men in business. We decided to leave family out of the equation, not demanding that our work schedules or work environments adapt to our needs as mothers, caretakers, wives and so on. We bullied on, left our emotions at home, and were thankful for small pittance, like 6 weeks of maternity leave or flexible working hours. Somehow, we felt like we would be seen as “less than” a man if we asked for more or spoke up about what a woman really needs in juggling work and home life.
The silence continues to this day. Sandberg has missed a huge opportunity by shifting blame on women and demanding they step up and play like the big boys. Here’s a thought: instead of trying the same old strategies of acting like men, how about we try something radically different and start acting like women?
Leaning-in for me means something completely different than Sandberg’s definition. I define it as a true lean-in – one that requires you to be both vulnerable and trust others. Imagine two people leaning into each other, facing each other with their arms stretched out, hands touching. It’s only a true lean in when both sides are giving of themselves and are willing to let the other support them. For far too long, women have been conditioned to lean only on themselves and trust themselves – showing up as strong, independent and able to take care of themselves. Is that realistic, especially when we play so many roles and take on so much responsibility? Is the only solution demanding men split responsibilities at home and be equal partners?
I say it isn’t. Its not sustainable and we know it. Women are more burned out, stressed out and sick because of it. And we’re unhappy. If social equality and more freedom and independence were supposed to make us so happy, why aren’t we? What is preventing us from fully realizing ourselves?
In my opinion, it’s mainly because of the way we’ve approached our predicament. We’ve gone about it the wrong way. Instead of embracing our natural capacities as women, we’ve shunned them. Rather than leaning into our vulnerability and using it as strength, we’ve become self-reliant and self-protecting. We’ve pushed ahead, mostly alone, instead of allowing our lives, especially our careers to unfold naturally and asking for help along the way. And most saddening of all, as women, we’ve been our own worst critics and have worked against each other for far too long. The result is that we feel unsupported, especially by each other. With few women role models who exemplify a true feminine, yet powerful style of leadership, we have taken on the characteristics of men. Without supportive networks of women, we spend too much time competing. By compromising who we are, we’ve compromised our place in the world, and it’s working against us. The good news: it’s not too late. And Sheryl’s idea of leaning in, albeit slightly redefined version could actually help us get back on track.
The answers are staring us in the face. And they’re not hard.
Let’s begin leaning into each other as women, practicing kindness and compassion with one another. Let’s be kinder to ourselves and not put so much pressure on ourselves to have it all, right this instant. Let’s redefine success so that it encompasses all of who we are, and makes room for all of our hearts desires – career, family, fulfilling relationships, health, happiness. Let’s invite men to help us, allowing them to play their proper role in the equation. Most importantly, let’s lean in to ourselves – by breaking down our inner glass ceiling and stepping fully into our feminine, leaning into our vulnerability, trusting our intuition and opening our hearts. This is the real definition of leaning-in and I propose that we join this movement. And I invite Sheryl to be the first one to join the ranks.