Ever since Sheryl Sandberg published LEAN IN, women’s equality has been a huge conversation in our culture. But I’m finding the conversation tiresome. The truth is, a woman should be able to choose whether or not she leans in. Unfortunately, women are feeling an insane amount of pressure to give everything to their careers and climb the proverbial ladder.
First of all, I want to make a few things clear:
1. Yes, I read LEAN IN. I’m not one of those people who bash some trend they haven’t experienced for themselves.
2. I have nothing against Sheryl Sandberg personally. She’s smart, witty, fabulously self-deprecating, and her writing is enjoyable. In fact, I agree with a lot of what she’s saying.
3. I have never felt disadvantaged in my career because I’m female. Maybe I’ve been incredibly lucky. Maybe I live in a city where women are afforded plenty of opportunities. Maybe I grew up in a school system where there were plenty of smart girls, and we weren’t discouraged from pursuing our dreams.
Or maybe I’ve just never hesitated going after opportunities because of the fact that I’m a woman.
Whatever the case may be, this lack of disadvantage may mean I’m biased, and I acknowledge this. I’m sure there are women out there who truly want to be leaders/CEOs/etc., but have been shoved off the ladder. There are also women, perhaps single mothers, who are struggling to stay afloat, and need promotions to feed their families. And there are certainly women being paid less than their male peers. For these women, this issue needs to be addressed.
However, certain aspects of the lean in conversation have become irksome for me personally, as well as several of my friends, so I’m sure there are more women out there thinking this, too. Here’s why:
1. Not all women want to be leaders, and that’s OK.
In LEAN IN, Sheryl advises women to be more active players in their careers instead of waiting for someone to hand your career to you or fix the system. Instead, take every opportunity afforded you, speak up in meetings, and be direct. Don’t be afraid to sit at the table and make your voice heard. She also shows how men can take more active roles in the home and create a 50/50 split between household and family rearing responsibilities, so their wives could spend more time focusing on their careers.
This is great stuff.
She also specifically speaks to women who want to focus on raising families. And that’s ok — there are some women who would prefer spending more time with their children than being in the office, and these women should lean into raising their families.
This is also great stuff. But people are forgetting that bit.
Instead, there’s been an uproar: 5% of all Fortune 500 CEOs are women. To quote Sheryl directly:
“We are 50 percent of the population. We are 5 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs. We are 17 percent of the board seats. We are 19 percent in Congress. That’s not enough for 50 percent of the population. We live in a world that is overwhelming run and owned by men.”
People have been hyper-focused on these statistics to the point where it’s making women feel guilty for not pursuing these leadership positions. I’d like to see a study that shows what percentage of women want to be CEOs compared to the percentage of men that want to be CEOs.
“Yes, Diana, but girls are discouraged from an early age from aspiring to be CEO,” you might retort. “They’re told early and often that being bossy is bad.”
Seriously? Boys are discouraged from playing dress-up or caring about clothes, but many of the top designers are men (Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani to name a few). That’s just one example.
Maybe women just don’t want to be CEOs, not because of the messages we hear at an early age, or male superiors holding us back in the workplace. Maybe we’re just biologically wired to want different things. And that’s OK.
I love my career, but I certainly don’t want to be a CEO someday. And that’s a choice that I have the right to make for myself. I personally prefer the creativity that comes with doing rather than managing, and even recently turned down the opportunity to manage.
I want to do what makes me happy. But I don’t want to be dumped into some statistic I don’t want to be a part of to begin with.
2. I don’t want to get a promotion because I’m a woman.
Management at large companies are now pressured to promote women often and ensure that women are on their boards and senior management team, sometimes regardless of experience or skill sets compared to male competition. I have seen this happen.
I like to earn my rewards. OK, maybe I wish I could eat tons of chocolate and not exercise and stay slim. But other than that, I like to earn my rewards.
I like to work really hard on a project and be congratulated for it. I like to sell lots of ebooks and go on fabulous vacations to Europe, so the next time I crank on an ebook, I remember that it’s going to be worth it. I like to get a promotion at work and remember all the hard work I did over the past year to get that promotion.
I don’t want to get a promotion just because I’m a woman.
Worse, I don’t want to receive an earned promotion and then wonder if I got the promotion because of the fact that I’m a woman. I never want to have to ask myself, “Wait, did I really earn this?”
3. I don’t want to regret what I’ve prioritized in my life.
Here are the two biggest regrets of the dying:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Life is short. Before you decide to “lean in,” I think you should take a good hard look at how you want to spend the days of your life. Do you want to be cooped up in an office going after promotions, or at endless networking events and client schmooze-fests? Or do you want to be spending time with your family and friends, exploring the world, reading good books, and experiencing LIFE.
Some people are ambitious, and are truly passionate about building their careers. They find their careers as if not more gratifying than the family/friends/culture stuff. And that’s fine. But not all of us should feel this pressure to lean in to their careers, especially if you’re lucky enough to already have the financial stability to make this choice. You should do what makes you happy in the short time you have on this planet.
4. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t want to be a “leader.”
I like to be creative. If I end a day without having created something, whether it’s a graphic or webpage or effective copy or whatever, it wasn’t a good day. That’s why I turned down a management opportunity. I dislike being in meetings. I dislike spending the entire day answering people’s questions. I’d rather be designing some graphic or coding some webpage.
Not wanting a traditional “leadership” position doesn’t make me any less ambitious. I want to be a best-selling published author. I want to be a skilled marketer. I just don’t want to be a CEO or VP, or manage a 8-10 person team.
Again, life is short. I want to spend my days doing something that makes me happy. I want to have a good work-life balance. Instead of spending 12-hour days in the office, I want to go home and write my novels.
But I don’t want people (mainly other women, ironically) raising their eyebrows at me and asking, “But haven’t you read Lean In?”
Fortunately, I don’t really care what they think. But many women are feeling this pressure now. Many women feel that they have to pursue leadership positions in order to achieve success in their lives, thanks to this lean in conversation. But leaning in is a choice that all women should make for themselves, regardless of what other people think or expect of them. Which brings me to…
5. Let’s teach girls to stop caring what people think.
Sheryl’s recent #banbossy campaign is… interesting. I get where she’s coming from. Boys who lead are called leaders, but girls who lead are called bossy, and this dissuades girls from becoming leaders.
But we shouldn’t be trying to ban the word bossy from our vocabulary. We should be trying to teach girls not to care when someone calls them bossy. We should be teaching them how to be empowered and rise up above adversity.
Instead, we’re trying to shelter them even more. What happens when these girls grow up and go out in the real world? If someone calls them bossy, or some equivalent, will they know how to brush it off? Or will they recede into themselves, unknowing how to handle criticism?
No matter how much we strive for gender equality today, nobody’s going to be handing these girls their careers on a silver platter in fifteen years. They’re going to have to know how to earn their way up the ladder, if that’s what they want, and to be strong when someone tries to push them down.
More importantly, they should know that they have a choice in whether or not they want to make the climb, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Share this! Here are some ready-made tweets:
Click to Tweet: Why Women Should Have the Choice To Lean In… Or Not – http://bit.ly/1kCeKPk via @DianaUrban #LeanIn
Click to Tweet: I don’t want to receive an earned promotion and wonder if I got it because I’m a woman. http://bit.ly/1kCeKPk #LeanIn
Click to Tweet: Not all women want to be leaders, and that’s OK. It’s your choice to make. http://bit.ly/1kCeKPk #LeanIn
Click to Tweet: Let’s teach girls to stop caring what people think instead of trying to change our vocabulary. http://bit.ly/1kCeKPk #banbossy