What’s The Big Deal About The ‘Lean In’ Movement?

Would you say your career trajectory parallels that of climbing a ladder?  Or one strategically driven by selecting more lateral opportunities? According to Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, this answer is often determined by your gender.

Just shy of  its one year anniversary in circulation, people are still talking about Ms. Sandberg’s New York Times best selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The broad premise behind Lean In is to not only explain why the careers of women grow more laterally compared compared to the careers of their male counterparts, who are more apt to climb the corporate ladder – but to impart a physical sense of the message as well.  Like her fellow Harvard alumn Amy Cuddy, Sandberg champions women to begin embracing their physical presence by leaning in and believing in their ability to not only be in the room, but to “sit at the table”.

In addition to the most commonly reported career roadblocks (bias, lack of flexibility and lack of opportunity), Sandberg points out that many women worry their professional success will stand in the way of their ability to successfully raise children. By focusing on such fears, Sandberg believes that women tend to shortchange their own contributions from the very start by subconsciously leaning backand refraining from seeking promotions and challenging projects. Her advice? “Don’t leave before you leave.”

According to Lean In, another roadblock women tend to face in their careers is society’s perceptions of powerful business women. As Pantene’s popular WHIPIT campaign pointed out, strong career women like Marissa Mayer continue to face the “bitch” label, while male counterparts such as Elon Musk are simply viewed as strong, successful leaders. According to Sandberg, “Success and likability are positively correlated for men, but negatively correlate for women.”

Sandberg also doesn’t shy away from addressing the fact that men still maintain the majority of leadership positions in the world.  In her popular TedTalk surrounding the issue, she delves deeper into why, in comparison to men, a smaller percentage of women than men reach the pinnacle of their professions and offers up powerful pieces of advice to women with their eye on the C-suite.

To round out her talk, Sandberg shares the results of an experiment that had recently concluded at her alma mater, Harvard Business School.  Unbeknownst to Harvard’s 2013 graduating class, the students had been guinea pigs in a 2-year case study on gender equality.

In an effort to eradicate Harvard’s gender gap, “articulate values”, and foster female success, the case study (or “gender makeover”) consisted of changes to curriculum, rules and social rituals. By graduation, interviews from 70 professors, administrators and students revealed that the “grade gap” had vaporized so fast that no one could quite pinpoint how it had happened – but they felt as if the school had become a markedly better place overall, citing an increase in female class participation, more women achieving academic awards than ever before, and perhaps most surprisingly – male students were seen parading around campus wearing t-shirts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the admission of women.

Longtime professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter was quoted as saying, “Women at the school finally felt that people liked them… they [had become] an equal part of the institution.”

Clearly, Ms. Sandberg’s goal of encouraging career women everywhere to “find a place at the table” is a movement that’s been long-overdue – and one which has women and men sitting up and taking notice.


We’d love to hear your thoughts!

When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, do you think there’s still some work that needs to be done, or do you feel things are fairly equal?

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