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Why I Want Women To Lean In

Posted by on Mar. 7, 2013 at 7:54 PM
  • 94 Replies

What do you think?

Why I Want Women To Lean In

Today in the United States and the developed world, women are better off than ever before. But the blunt truth is that men still run the world. While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. Women hold around 14% of Fortune 500 executive-officer positions and about 17% of board seats, numbers that have barely budged over the last decade. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, our voices are not heard equally.

It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled. A truly equal world would be one where women ran half of our countries and companies and men ran half of our homes. The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our performance would improve.

(MORETIME’s Complete Coverage on Sheryl Sandberg)

Throughout my career, I was told over and over about inequalities in the workplace and how hard it would be to have a career and a family. I rarely, however, heard anything about the ways I was holding myself back. From the moment they are born, boys and girls are treated differently. Women internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives—the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men—and pull back when we should lean in.

We must not ignore the real obstacles women face in the professional world, from sexism and discrimination to a lack of flexibility, access to child care and parental leave. But women can dismantle the internal barriers holding us back today. Here are three examples of how women can lean in.

Don’t Leave Before You Leave
A few years ago, a young woman at facebook began asking me lots of questions about how I balance work and family. I inquired if she and her partner were considering having a child. She replied that she did not have a husband, then added with a little laugh, “Actually, I don’t even have a boyfriend.”

From an early age, girls get the message that they will likely have to choose between succeeding at work and being a good wife and mother. By the time they are in college, women are already thinking about the trade-offs. In a survey of Princeton’s class of 2006, 62% of women said they anticipated work/family conflict, compared with 33% of men—and of the men who expected a conflict, 46% expected that their wives would step away from their career track. These expectations yield predictable results: among professional women who take time off for family, only 40% return to work full time.

(MORE: TIME’s Cover Story, “Confidence Woman”)

But women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way. A law associate might decide not to shoot for partner because someday she hopes to have a family. A sales rep might take a smaller territory or not apply for a management role. A teacher might pass on leading curriculum development for her school. Often without even realizing it, women stop reaching for new opportunities. By the time a baby actually arrives, a woman is likely to be in a drastically different place than she would have been had she not leaned back. Before, she was a top performer on par with her peers in responsibility, opportunity and pay. But by not finding ways to stretch herself in the years leading up to motherhood, she has fallen behind. When she returns to the workplace after her child is born, she is likely to feel less fulfilled, underutilized or unappreciated. At this point, she probably scales her ambitions back even further since she no longer believes that she can get to the top.

There are many powerful reasons to exit the workforce. No one should pass judgment on these highly personal decisions. My point is that the time for a woman to scale back is when a break is needed or a child arrives—not before, and certainly not years in advance. For those who even have a choice, choosing to leave a child in someone else’s care and return to work is a hard decision. Anyone who has made this decision—myself included—knows how heartwrenching this can be. Only a compelling, challenging and rewarding job will begin to make that choice a fair contest.

Success and Likability
In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment. They started with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. It described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her “outgoing personality … and vast personal and professional network … [which] included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.” Half the students in the experiment were assigned to read Heidi’s story. The other half got the same story with just one difference—the name was changed from Heidi to Howard.

When students were polled, they rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent. But Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” This experiment supports what research has already clearly shown: success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.

(MORE: Dominique Browning: More Ways Women Sabotage Themselves)

I believe this bias is at the very core of why women are held back. It is also at the very core of why women hold themselves back. When a woman excels at her job, both men and women will comment that she is accomplishing a lot but is “not as well liked by her peers.” She is probably also “too aggressive,” “not a team player,” “a bit political”; she “can’t be trusted” or is “difficult.” Those are all things that have been said about me and almost every senior woman I know.

The solution is making sure everyone is aware of the penalty women pay for success. Recently at Facebook, a manager received feedback that a woman who reported to him was “too aggressive.” Before including this in her review, he decided to dig deeper. He went back to the people who gave the feedback and asked what aggressive actions she had taken. After they answered, he asked point-blank, “If a man had done those same things, would you have considered him too aggressive?” They each said no. By showing both men and women how female colleagues are held to different standards, we can start changing attitudes today.

Stop Trying to Have It All
having it all. perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women was the coining of this phrase. No matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all. Nor can they. The very concept of having it all flies in the face of the basic laws of economics and common sense. Being a working parent means making adjustments, compromises and sacrifices every day.

For most people, sacrifices and hardships are not a choice but a necessity—and tougher than ever because of the expansion of working hours. In 2009, married middle-income parents worked about 81⁄2 hours more per week than in 1979. Just as expectations about work hours have risen dramatically, so have expectations of how much time mothers will spend focused on their children. An employed mom today spends about the same amount of time reading to, feeding and playing with her children as a nonemployed mother did in 1975.

(MORE: Judith Warner: Why Sandberg Matters for Real Women)

One of my favorite posters on the walls at Facebook declares in big red letters, done is better than perfect. I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. My first six months at Facebook were really hard. A lot of my colleagues followed Mark Zuckerberg’s lead and worked night-owl engineering hours. I worried that leaving too early would make me stand out like a sore—and old—thumb. I missed dinner after dinner with my kids. I realized that if I didn’t take control of the situation, my new job would prove unsustainable. I started forcing myself to leave the office at 5:30. Every competitive, type-A fiber of my being was screaming at me to stay, but unless I had a critical meeting, I walked out that door. And once I did it, I learned that I could.

I do not have the answers on how to make the right choices for myself, much less for anyone else. I do know that I can too easily spend time focusing on what I am not doing. When I remember that no one can do it all and identify my real priorities at home and at work, I feel better—and I am more productive in the office and probably a better mother as well. Instead of perfect, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling.

(MORE: Forget About Mentors — Women Need Sponsors)

I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities. Shared experience forms the basis of empathy and, in turn, can spark the institutional changes we need. More female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all women. We also need men to lean into their families more, especially since research has consistently found that children with involved and loving fathers have higher levels of psychological well-being and better cognitive abilities.

The hard work of generations before us means that equality is within our reach. We can close the leadership gap now. Each individual’s success can make success a little easier for the next. We can do this—for ourselves, for one another, for our daughters and for our sons. If we push hard now, this next wave can be the last wave. In the future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Sheryl Sandberg

by on Mar. 7, 2013 at 7:54 PM
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by Silver Member on Mar. 7, 2013 at 9:01 PM
4 moms liked this

Men and women cannot be the "same".

No one can make someone  feel "less than" without that person's permission. 

March 3, 2013 7:04 PM

Zhang Xin: China's real estate mogul

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  •  She's a billionaire  !!!!!

by Ruby Member on Mar. 7, 2013 at 9:10 PM
5 moms liked this

Does that mean lean FORWARD?

Even when liberal policy goes opposite to the Constitution and is destroying your life and that of America?

Somehow, that does not seem patriotic at all.

I would definitely lean AWAY.

by Silver Member on Mar. 7, 2013 at 10:58 PM
10 moms liked this
I don't have a problem with females pursuing careers and leadership roles, if that is what truly makes them happy. Women that place their families as a high priority and are willing to sacrifice their careers for a time can be just as happy and fulfilled.

I personally agree with those who think female leaders are aggressive and not liked. I would much rather work for and with men than women any day.

If women occupied 50% of the leadership jobs, what does that leave the men of the world, who actually define themselves by their jobs? Depressed, hopeless, with too much time on their hands, unable to provide for their families? Sounds like a formula for disaster to me.
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by Platinum Member on Mar. 7, 2013 at 11:37 PM
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While reading this all I could think of was all those people over the years who wondered out loud why I didn't get a "real job" instead of sticking with the "crap job" I had.  I don't need someone else to tell me what makes me happy.   I had jobs that met MY needs at the time, flexible hours, flexible schedule, room to work up the ladder, paid the bills.  Does it matter that I wasn't earning 6 figures?  Not to me, but it sure did seem to matter to a whole lot of people who had no business in the matter!  My answer to them was that I earned real money, so how was my job not a real one? 

I think that some people need to get over themselves, and realize that not everyone wants to be a CEO, or even a VP.  Most of the time I think that the feminist movement screwed everything up for women and their families.  We are "taught" that we can do anything we want, we can be anything!  Then we are told that we can have it all!  We can be the perfect super-Mom, and run a multi-million dollar business, and if we can't, then there is something wrong with us.  That means that we all sell ourselves short!  We end up neglecting one or the other, and it is usually the family end that pays the price for a woman wanting to "have it all" and "be fulfilled."  Women have been sold a bill of goods all these years all under the guise of equality. 

Oh, I almost forgot -- I certainly don't need life lessons from someone who works for FB!  Who is she trying to kid?  She needs a "real job"!!!

by Bronze Member on Mar. 8, 2013 at 2:36 AM
3 moms liked this

Lets see Work for anyone that makes my hours and waste my family time or Live by the golden rule ( family first, work second, religion third) make MY OWN hours, be home with my family and own a business. Yeah i will stick with my business!!!! 

by on Mar. 8, 2013 at 6:01 AM
4 moms liked this

We have lost the right to decorate cupcakes for our 9 year old sons birthday party at school with little army men...we have lost soooooo many of our basic rights and it's right in front of these people. They are just to hungry for more, more, more. They don't see that they have less, less, less.

Yay progress. We sure are moving forward.

Quoting SallyMJ:

Does that mean lean FORWARD?

Even when liberal policy goes opposite to the Constitution and is destroying your life and that of America?

Somehow, that does not seem patriotic at all.

I would definitely lean AWAY.

by Platinum Member on Mar. 8, 2013 at 9:17 AM
4 moms liked this

I'm wondering if you all actually read the article - I know it's long, but most of the responses don't seem to acknowledge the text of the article, which is not anti-sahm or militant feminist.

by Bronze Member on Mar. 8, 2013 at 10:59 AM
4 moms liked this


The problem with Sandburg's advice is that it really doesn't address women who are trying to allocate the time for the careers that they want to have, and to be the mothers that they want to be.

What she's essentially saying is that women should go for broke in their careers, regardless of whether they want families.  And I do agree with that.

What she's missing, though, is that there are women out there who want to allocate more of their time with their families, not becaue they think they have to or even becaue they believe that their children are better off if they do, but because they simply want to.

She has no advice for them, really. 

And, as usual with these types of pieces, it ignores the class issue.  This is advice for upper-middle to middle class people, really, and ignores the issues of working women otherwise, whose problems are more rooted in affordable day care and lack of paid family leave.

by Socialist Hippie on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Of course not.

Quoting PamR:

I'm wondering if you all actually read the article - I know it's long, but most of the responses don't seem to acknowledge the text of the article, which is not anti-sahm or militant feminist.

by Bronze Member on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:08 AM
2 moms liked this

 I definitely, however, agree with her "stop trying to have it all" advice.


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