Sheryl Sandberg, in her groundbreaking book, Lean In, explores the inequalities of the women-to-men ratios in the workplace in terms of leadership. Women not only face institutional barriers, but a battle from within. Sandberg gave a TEDtalk on how women hold themselves back, literally choosing to watch from the sidelines, and from this, Lean In was born.
In other words, many women did not sit at the main conference table, but instead chose to sit in chairs on the sides. I have done this earlier in my career, feeling slightly unequal to others in the room who had more experience than I. The same phenomenon happens in the classroom in higher education, where women, including myself, either timidly raised their hands to answer a question or did not even try. I knew I had the answer, but I was afraid that it may come out wrong. However the men in the room would eagerly share their opinions, right or wrong, and would be “hailed” by the professor as forward thinking or confident.
This pervasive attitude holds women back, and women, rather than appearing too bold, or possibly having to “own up” to being an imposter, willingly hold themselves back. Sandberg says that women hold themselves back because they are afraid of being disliked, and the negative term “bossy” is thrown about. Sandberg launched a media campaign called “Ban Bossy,” which has ignited a firestorm of praise and ridicule.
Sandberg also states that many women feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments, brushing the compliment off as “just lucky” or had help from others. I almost cried when I read this because, finally, someone has just articulated what I have felt all along.
In my mid-50s I am realizing how I have held myself back and I make damn sure the women in my work team are encouraged and are “leaning in.” Recently, a colleague told me how another colleague had brought some of his work team with him to a meeting. The women in the group immediately sat in the chairs along the wall. He stood up and told them all to sit at the table! Bravo!
If you are interested in reading more, Lean In is an excellent book! In fact, worldwide, Lean In Circles are forming in workplaces, where women (and men) can discuss the book and its concepts for encouraging leadership in women. I ran into this article at work today, “Having More Women Leaders is Good for Business.”
Also, I have blogged about some of these topics in my Professional Development page.
Let’s work together to cultivate and build the capacity of current and next generations of women leaders.