Women in business are captivating the news. From Facebook Executive, Sheryl Sandberg, who told women that to succeed, they needed to “lean in,” to former Lehman Brothers CFO, Erin Callen, who shared how she leaned in, leaned in hard, and regrets her choices, women are at the forefront of recent conversations.
Whether the conversations have been good or not for women in business, remains to be seen, although anytime a discussion is focused on the powerful role that women play in business, it’s a good thing. It leaves many businesswomen feeling frustrated, however, not only with the backlash of the conversation but over what it really takes to succeed. Do we lean in? Do we lean out? It seems as though everyone has an opinion! So, here’s mine!
Frankly, “leaning in” isn’t new for women in business. We’ve been leaning in for a long time including, but not limited, to these five ways:
- Every time women take a risk, they “lean in”. Whether that includs the choice to delay family for the sake of career or delay a career to have a family. Both choices likely feel risky – and take tremendous courage – for those who are making them.
- Every time women experience uncertainty, they “lean in”. That ambiguity runs the gamut of how to meet the looming needs of aging parents alongside the needs of a growing family to how they are going to meet their payroll requirements in a wobbly economy.
- Every time a woman “goes against the grain”, she “leans in”. When a woman in business does or says something different from what is expected, she takes a risk. By assuming the gamble, she leans in. Her vulnerability is on the line by doing, saying, and being who she chooses to be rather than as she may have been socialized.
- Every time women say “no” to conform to feminine norms, they “lean in”. In studies on conformity to feminine norms, researchers listed the most important attributes for “being feminine” as “passivity, submissiveness, and compassionate, caring, nurturing behavior toward others, especially infants, are widely considered feminine traits in comparison to masculine assertiveness and competitiveness.”
- Every time a woman chooses a path different from the one chosen for her, she “leans in”. This can look very much like “leaning out” if a woman chooses not to aggressively compete in the culture in which she dwells.
It’s difficult for any of us to judge or challenge another’s decision from where we stand. Honestly, whatever a woman in business decides, she needs to feel good about herself and her choice – whatever it may be. There will be times when “leaning in” is the appropriate choice and other times when the decision is to “lean out” and it feels incredible risky.
My advice to those questioning the best strategy for success – leaning in or leaning out – is to gather ‘round! Gather ‘round other women in business to support which every direction they need to lean so that we all might move forward together.