Lean in, lean out

October 2nd, 2014


As the great James Brown once said, “It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world.”


Well, obviously not anymore. It’s the 21st century. We’ve abandoned stereotypes, gender roles and have striven towards equality. Women leaders have rallied as much support as men in the workforce. Right?




My fear is that this grand notion of achieving equality in the workforce will never be attained.


Hold on there before you start calling me a “Pessimistic Polly.”  Let’s step back and examine women leaders for a moment, shall we?


The numbers speak for themselves. Currently, less than five percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women. Why is this?


This past summer, I attended a workshop organized by the company I interned for analyzing the differences between “leaning in and leaning out.” Before you throw this paper across the quad in confusion because you think I’m referring to some crazy new dance move, bear with me.


The inspiration behind this workshop came from chief operating officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”


Sandberg says it’s up to women to stop holding themselves back, and abandon gender stereotypes. Unfortunately, women are confined to their gender roles of being the soft, sensitive, emotional, nurturing one – not typically the description of a high-powered CEO on Wall Street, eh?


According to Sandberg, “The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t.”


Shattering the glass ceiling doesn’t happen by reverting back to this feminine stereotype. It happens by stepping forward and being assertive. It happens by, as Sandberg calls it, “leaning in.”


So, fellow women: we have a game plan, right? Let’s lean in, be assertive and demand the respect we deserve from men in the workforce. Let’s sit at the table of other vice presidents of major corporations, and look them in the eye, demanding the equality we deserve.


Before you channel your inner Gloria Steinem and throw your fist up in the air in an act of defiance, hold on for just one minute.


This approach is flawed.  Men, stereotypically, are the assertive, competitive, proactive gender. It’s natural. It’s what’s been ingrained in our minds for decades.


What happens when we “lean in,” assuming the strong, independent, assertive woman approach? Well, that one guy who’s always been the assertive one in the company for the past 10 years thinks you’re emasculating him. That woman at her desk over there thinks you’re a little overbearing because you’re not reverting back to your “feminine nature.”


Also, she’s a tad jealous you’re moving up the ladder quicker than she is.


So, what are you then? It’s simple. You are, for lack of a better phrase, a female dog. Please fill in the blanks.


Take former New York Times editor-in-chief, Jill Abramson, who was fired this past May. Abramson was the first female executive editor of this publication, having served in this role for two and a half years.


Shocking how it took this long for a female to become an executive editor of the New York Times, right?


When Abramson was fired, the reason for her leave that was publicized across media outlets was her “brusque management style.”




There might’ve been a concrete reason for her dismissal. I’ll even give the New York Times the benefit of the doubt and say there was.


However, according to media, Abramson was fired because she was a female dog. She leaned in. What sort of message does this convey to our young, female leaders of tomorrow?


It’s mixed.  At one end of the spectrum, people say, “lean in:” it’s the only way you can get noticed and attain respect.


At the other, some say, “lean out:” if not, you’re going to end up like Abramson and get the boot for having a “brusque management style.”


So, where do we stand? Can female leaders win? As a young, female leader, I’ve been criticized for leaning in and leaning out. I’ve seen the frustration  of women who want respect and leadership. They have all these great ideas to better their organization. But, they’re stuck.


To fight for equality in the workplace, women must continue to be opportunity-driven. However, we must keep in mind that these ancient stereotypes of a male dominated workforce are here to stay for quite some time.


Our best bet: teach men what women can do, too. Have them understand our motives, earning their respect and showing it’s okay to work hand in hand.