In response to HBR’s article on Lean In

If you follow me on Twitter or on LinkedIn, then it’s not a surprised I’m a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In.  I came across this article from Harvard Business Review, It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back, which I highly disagree with.

Here’s a comment I left for the author:

As a woman in the early stages of my career, I very much disagree with this article and James’ analysis of Lean In.  The book isn’t telling us to copy men but rather guide women to overcome hesitation.  I’ve seen young women new to the workforce who are often time hesitant to speak up at a meeting for the fear of being wrong or going against the grain compared to young men in the workplace.  I, myself have experienced this, and it took a couple of years before I had the confidence to “lean-in” and speak up.  What Sandberg’s book does do is help guide women to gain confidence and a voice earlier on.  She’s bringing to the forefront what society is dictating and how to overcome societal and environmental norms that taught young women for the first 18 years of our lives to be quiet, play nice, and be agreeable.

And to address your question on “why is it the women who should be copying the men? Why can’t it be the
men who could be well served by taking a page out of an entirely different book: that of the very women Lean In is advising to change?”

As I mentioned previously, Lean In isn’t suggesting that women copy men.  But let’s say for argument sake that it was.  The book was written to guide women readers in their development and to provide insight for male readers into the challenges women face in the workplace.  And as much as I would be surprised and delighted if men stepped back, it’s much easier for me to take control of my actions then convince a whole gender to “lean back”.

What do you think? Is he right?  Am I way off the ball with my interpretation of the book?

The Book Club: Lean In.

I finished Sheryl Sandberg’s much buzzed about book, Lean In, last night.  As I sit here reflecting on the book, Sandberg’s message, and my thoughts, I’m trying to see what value I can add to a whirlwind of conversation that has transpired from her novel.

Before the launch of her book and since the days the book launched, praise, criticism, positivity, scoffs have been shared.  Some have argued why women should read the book and others have rolled their eyes at it.  My favorite criticism was from Simona Covel at Inc.com, “Stop Selling Me Porn” who while I agree that work-life balance books have become the “new porn” for women, I think she missed the message of Sandberg’s book.

lean in

As a young, ambitious, twenty-something, I’ve struggled with being heard and at times I have been overshadowed by my male peers at the same level.  I drew parallels to many of her stories and cringed reading Sandberg’s lesson on hand raising and being acknowledged in meetings (or Sandberg likes to refer to as “leaning in”).  I personally dealt with hesitation and pulled back when I should have been leaning in.  I was lucky to be able to overcome or in my case, forced to overcome it.  Early on I had a great male sponsor who openly asked for my opinion and having provided a dumb response my first time, I made sure not to let that happen again.  I also gained tenure at the start up I’m with and colleagues – both senior and junior staff – started to turn to me for questions and advice and I had no choice but to start contributing to meetings or watch the team backtrack.  Sandberg’s book would have came in handy before I entered the working world.

Depending on where you are at your career and personal life, this book will speak differently to you.  As a twenty-something in the early stages of my career, Lean In offers great, actionable advice I can put in practice to help me steer the next 5, 10, 15 years of my career.  There were many messages, stories, facts that made me reflect, cringe, fume, and nodded in agreement.  Here are the five key aha! moments of Lean In:

1) “A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential while women are promoted based on past accomplishments“.  This struck a chord.  I first saw and recognize this in high school and have seen it multiple times since.

2) The most important decision you will make in life will be the partner you choose.  Find someone that will put in 50/50 and be there along the ride.

3) Be your own advocate.  When hard work and results aren’t being recognized, it’s up to you to promote yourself, make the ask, and challenge yourself.  Change the results of the McKinsey report and focus on both your accomplishments and potential.

4) The movement goes both ways.  We need to promote, encourage, and be inclusive to men who choose to stay at home.  Same with women feeling shut out in the office, stay at home dads also face the same barriers.  Openness and inclusiveness need to go both ways.

5) Be authentic.  Be human.  Sheryl Sandberg has been able to capture a following because not only is she willing to raise subjects that are uncomfortable but she’s authentic.  Her experiences, her ambition, her outlook clearly has resonated with millions of women from all ages.

Sheryl Sandberg has been a trailblazer for women in tech.  She’s bringing to center stage a topic that has been shied away from and has been hushed for too long.  As the topic continues its momentum, I’ll be leaning in with a close ear.

Settling because that’s the only option is not an option.

I find myself lucky to be working at the period in history that I’m working right now.  Entering the workforce in 2010 provided me access to strong women in leadership roles and countless women success stories to aspire to.  I couldn’t imagine entering the workforce in the early ’80s when the boardrooms and managerial roles, let alone executive roles, were dominated solely by men.  How discouraging would it have been to be bright eyed, hungry, and ambitious only to see the limitations ahead?  As millennials, we are so fortunate to have had trailblazers create new paths and break molds.  It is important to keep pushing young women to shatter the glass ceiling and encourage them to not settle for status quo.  With that being said, there is nothing wrong in being a stay at home mom or whatever they choose to be.  Rather, the message and mindset should not be to settle only because moving ahead doesn’t seem to be a viable option.

When Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, gave birth shortly after joining her new position as head of Yahoo, headlines like “Yahoo CEO gives birth, then gives short shrift to maternity leave” or “How Relevant Is Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Leave? Not Very” popped up everywhere.  What bothered me wasn’t the debate to whether or no she took mat leave.  What did bothered me was that it was even a headline at all.  And to further fuel my fire was that it spread into additional headlines as to whether or not her mat leave was something we should be talking about.  I recognize though, that the topic is something that needs to be raised still.  Unfortunately the workplace hasn’t progressed enough for the topic of maternity leave not to be of a concern for employers and it will take many more headlines of women in c-suite positions making the same decision before we can accept that their decision is their own and not one that should be scrutinized.  I fully appreciated that Mayers never commented on her pregnancy or mat leave and continued with the idea of business as usual.

As a society, we have made great strides to getting more women in leadership roles.  There are many studies, articles, reports, findings, etc. that have shown that women in leadership role help companies perform better.  Let’s continue to encourage these dialogues, help other young women in your workplace develop, and take time to coach women into becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

Because at the end of the day, companies with women board members outperforms companies with all-male boards and who doesn’t want that?