Thursday, February 28, 2013

The "Leaning In" Movement

A few days ago I came across an article about Sheryl Sanberg's new book "Lean In" and I immediately took notice. I love books like this and more so when the writer is the COO of Facebook. My take on it was that I'd rather have someone who is really successful give me advice, than someone mediocre. Is that bad? I think it's the same reason we as a nation have flocked to Oprah, watched her show, read her magazine, took her advice, followed her money guru Suze Orman and followed the health advice of Dr. Oz.  As people we assume that someone more successful than us has the answers to success.

The big controversy about Sandberg's book and something that was pointed out by Anne-Marie Slaughter, once a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is that Sandberg is 1. blaming women for not "leaning in" enough and 2. that Sandberg really can't relate to the typical working woman with her huge salary and her house of servants.

Critics have said that Sandberg needs to make corporations and government agencies accountable too and that we need to provide more incentives to new moms to return back to the workforce.

First of all let me make it clear that I have not read the book so I am making this commentary based on my experience of working in Corporate America for the past 20 years and on others' commentary.

I thought long about this. I remember reading Slaughter's Atlantic article telling me that I can't have it all, but thinking that I still wanted it all. So yes, I am torn. I can relate to what both women are saying and yes, I have leaned out many times, especially when I was married and the children were young.

Thinking about Slaughter's point I know what she means because even though I was working and making a very good living, when I was married my husband was a blue collar worker that couldn't share in the responsibility as much as I would have liked. He went into work at some ungodly hour like 5 and worked until after 5 many times. He did not have the flexibility that I had, so it fell on me to take the kids to the sitter's and then to school. So how could I lean in? This advice wouldn't have been relevant to me then.

I posted the original article that I read in the New York Times on a Facebook group that I belong to called LLN, Latina Leadership Network. I received some interesting comments but one stuck with me especially. Mari Beck said that she feels "some frustration at the way society looks at successful women in leadership roles and tries to dictate which types of success are more acceptable. I don't see Donald Trump or Richard Branson measured by their household help roster or their ability to relate directly to the average man or whether they "get" them."

She has a really good point doesn't she? Why do we have to have these wars on what is good advice and what isn't? Do we say that Oprah can't relate to us because she's a billionaire? Or that she can because she didn't start out as one? Yes, Sandberg went to Harvard, but she wasn't as rich or successful back then. Why can't we just take Sandberg's advice without making excuses or passing judgment?

Today I read another opinion by Whitney Johnson on the Huffington Post that offered a different opinion. I loved her honest opinion because I could relate to so much that she said. I have been there so many times in the past 20 years. I have seen the different way that we are treated as women or even as a Hispanic woman. Some things are obvious and some things I see because I'm more aware of those things having studied the differences in gender and communication for my MA.

Now that my kids are older and that I'm divorced I'm trying very hard to lean in. Ironically I feel like I can lean in more now that I'm divorced than when I was married. But now I'm older and I can feel that difference too. I'm an older Hispanic woman now. Triple whammy! Yes, there's a chance that I may have lost my chance to lean in. Am I going to let that hold me back? No, I don't think so. My friend has a great quote posted on her wall on FB. "This is not how the story ends." In many ways I think this is where it will begin for me.

So yes, I plan to lean in some more. Yes, I will probably read the book and join in on the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I may even join a group. Why not? What can it hurt? I think it will help me more than hurt me.

Let's support each other as women. If someone wants to "lean out" and that makes them happy then don't criticize them for that. If they want to lean in, then support that decision. Especially if you're the spouse or a family member that is part of their "village." Because when it comes down to it that's the way we can all lean in, if we have a support network. And when a woman becomes more successful and she is happier then we as a community are better too. It's all part of an even bigger picture.

So I say yes, let's lean in and believe that we can have it all, if that's what we choose. I still believe.

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