Leaning In Or Leaning Back? Or, Standing Straight?

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

The debate continues about whether Sheryl Sandberg’s message about leaning in is the right message to send to the women who aspire to be in the corporate world, but struggle to make it happen for various reasons.  While some of the comments have been positive, her message has certainly received a number of harsh criticisms.

In a recent HBR post, James Allworth talks about how it is not women who should lean in, but men should step back instead.  Earlier, CNN published an article about having it all that sparked a lot of debate on whether it is women or men that have it all.  My blog post on having it all addressed that topic to highlight that it is not about having it all and rather about knowing how to navigate the environment we are in.  Also, recently, Kristin van Ogtrop of Time’s Real Simple wrote about how she would rather stand up straight.

The point in these articles is that there is more to life than trying to constantly do better and want more.  And more to life than being aggressive in one’s career or working too much.  Couldn’t agree more!  But, when I read these takeaways, it occurs to me that something fundamental has been misconstrued from Sandberg’s message of leaning in.  I don’t believe it is about working oneself to exhaustion or ignoring everything else in life.  It is about paying attention to our environments and being one among the (male dominant) corporate population that gets much of the attention.  All within the scope of what we do and more importantly, what we want to do.

For women that have navigated the corporate world, even the ones like me who are mostly just nobodys in various organizations, this distinction should be clear.  If, as some reviews of the book have suggested, men were to actually alter their behavior, then perhaps women become natural members of the corporate society and we don’t need to be talking about what it means to lean in.  But, as it stands today, for the woman that desires to be in the game, it is rather important to assume the behavior that is most familiar to the predominant decision makers and the corporate society at large.  Mostly speaking, that is all about confidence and communication – and these are not necessarily bad characteristics to adopt.

When we have that moment of doubt, we just need to remember that such moments happen to everyone, including the men at the table.  That will help us get past it and be in the game. Not by overworking or constantly looking for more, but simply by knowing that we can do as well as our male counterparts in what we choose to do!

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