“Lean In”: Coming Soon, Maybe to Your Workplace?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is on a mission: The fantastically successful, phenomenally wealthy mother of two wants to start “Lean In Circles” at workplaces throughout the country to help working women fight the often-invisible barriers (some of them internal) that often impede them from achieving leadership positions in their organizations. As she writes in her soon-to-be published book, Lean In:

We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Indeed they do: Although women constitute nearly 48 percent of today’s workforce, fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In conjunction with the release of her book, Sandberg has enlisted a number of large, well-known companies such as Google (her former employer), American Express, Sony, Johnson & Johnson and the New York Times Co. to sponsor Lean In Circles, which are monthly meetings in which participants will review and discuss materials on improving their career prospects by, for example, improving their negotiation and presentation skills. As detailed in a story in today’s New York Times, the “instructions for the gatherings are precise, down to membership requirements (participants can miss no more than two monthly meetings per year) and the format (15-minute check-in, 3 minutes each for personal updates, a 90-minute presentation, then discussion).”

Sandberg has her critics, of course.  The story cites consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who wrote that Sandberg “does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough.” Others in the story question whether career advice from a wealthy and privileged woman with dual degrees from Harvard and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of stock options will resonate among “more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care.” But privilege aside, Sandberg’s advice is worth considering because she represents the many career women out there who are in the “and” category, rather than the “either/or” stereotype — that is, that women must choose between either stay-at-home motherhood or high-powered career, writes The Atlantic’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. “Many women navigate the ‘ands’ every day, juggling a work life and a family life whose demands have meshed into one another in our constantly connected, 24/7-everything world. They don’t have the luxury of choosing one or the other because they are too busy doing both,” she writes.

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