When I say that, I am not taking issue with Sheryl Sandberg’s points that brought the whole term to light in the first place. While her views about women in the workforce have angered many, I happen to agree with several of her points and applaud her for saying them out loud. I also agree with her sentiment that, “Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional — or worse, sometimes even a negative — for women. “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishment comes at a cost.”
Her statements are very well said and so very, very true. It is also true that as parents we want to teach our kids that both genders can be equally ambitious and powerful. If our daughters want a place at the boardroom table, they should walk in and sit right down where they belong. Let there be no more glass ceilings at the top of the corporate ladder when our kids are grown.
Yet I also feel that because women are still by and large more responsible for care giving that we need to not only understand the unspoken negatives that come with professional ambition and accomplishment among women, we also need to recognize that there needs to be a shift in societal pressures on women to be everything to everyone. The two are not mutually exclusive; they must go hand-in-hand or there will be not shift of significance in either one. As a society we have a lot to learn about the pressures we put on ourselves and the accolades we give to those around us.
As for leaning in, my personal frustration is with the semantics of the term itself and feeling that it is not the best choice for what women can do to create a systematic change in perception going forward. The idea of “leaning in” can signify partial participation. Leaning in is more like moving towards a curiosity. It is not a commitment. Leaning in is giving it a shot until you decide to either go all the way or go back to your original position.
There’s an old quote I adore by Frederick Wilcox which says that, “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second by keeping one foot on first.” I don’t know about you but I have reached a point in life where I am either going to stay on first or go for broke. I know who I am and where I want to go. There will be no leaning towards second, no in-betweens.
As for the forward progress of women, it is my opinion that instead of leaning in any direction we should stand tall in our acceptance of others. We should encourage women to be ambitious in the workplace, just like we should encourage men to take on the role of care givers. We should also be realistic in our expectations and gladly accept those who choose the compromise of working in a different capacity while raising a family.
If a woman chooses to stay home and care for her family, I will be proud of her for taking on that role. If a woman works her way rapidly up the corporate ladder, I will encourage her to keep on climbing. If a woman works her tail off all day long because hers is the only family income, then I will support her in any way possible. And when I decide to celebrate my own accomplishments, all these women will have a place at the table, because all of us deserve to be there. While Sheryl Sandberg already has a very warm seat at the boardroom table, she is welcome to join us too.
What about you? Are you standing tall, leaning in or going for broke?