If you’re keeping an eye on the whole “have it all” debate, you’re probably going to start hearing a lot of buzz phrases about women “leaning in” to their careers in the coming months.
With Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s working girls guide due to be released 11 March, there’s already been plenty of talk generated about the book’s subject matter, and Sandberg’s unique stance on what women can do to get themselves to the top of the corporate sector.
In Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg questions why progress in achieving leadership positions for women has stalled and offers advice on how women can “lean in” to improve their own opportunities in the workforce.
She writes that she wants to focus on demolishing internal barriers for success in the workplace because the external ones are getting too much attention. She insists that women should “lean in” to their careers, especially when they have kids, instead of saying no to new opportunities.
What Sandberg is suggesting is that women ultimately need to work harder to elicit change. As Aviva Wittenberg-Cox notes on the Harvard Business Review, “she does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough.”
The “Lean In” movement
Despite decades of effort, Sandberg maintains that women are still facing invisible and subconscious barriers in the workplace, sometimes in the form of self-sabotage.
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” she writes in the book. That’s why, she adds, “men still run the world”.
Sandberg wants women to take on a “collective self-awareness exercise,” urging them to absorb the external factors and rise above them… and join a “Lean In Circle”, the half business school, half book club.
The mission of these “Lean In Circles”, Sandberg writes, is “to create a global community dedicated to encouraging women to lean in to their ambitions”.
For these global communities, she has created a detailed curriculum for women to follow in self-generated “lean in” circles; consisting of “three minutes for personal updates” – in which women can decry the detriments of the workplace for three minutes and then move on to a strict 90 minute regimen consisting of instructional webinars on a range of topics from “negotiating effectively to understanding your strengths” and inspirational quotes from a companion site – the recently launched “Lean In Foundation“.
The rules for the small peer groups are strict – participants can’t miss more than two monthly meetings a year. For the successful women contributing inspirational tales to the site, only stories with “positive endings about what you learned from your experience” are welcome.
Will anyone join her?
Sandberg champions working women and wants to eliminate obstacles that modern working women are still facing in the boardroom but will her ideas inspire other women to forge ahead?
That’s the question that A New York Times review poses. As Jodi Kantor notes, there’s something of an inconsistency between Sandberg’s position as COO of a multi-million dollar global platform and a personal fortune worth $500 million and the average working woman.
“Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees…a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder” writes Kantor.
The “Lean In” circles will be tailored to specific women who already struggle to juggle the obligations of their daily live, so asking them to commit an extra hour and a half in their already limited schedules while “raising their hands” to commit to more opportunities seems incongruous with the idea of balancing it all.
“The project has the feel of a social experiment,” writes Kantor, and only time will tell Sandberg’s social experiment has the genuine momentum to gain traction and provide answers to an issue whose solution has been a long time coming.
What do you think? Would you join a “Lean In Circle”?
Women’s Agenda are calling on expressions of interest to join a Women’s Agenda “Lean in Circle”. No twelve month commitment for this, just a single session in which we experiment with Sandberg’s ideas over a group discussion. If you’re Sydney-based and would be interested in attending at a CBD location, get in contact.