Saturday, 22 June 2013

Leaning In

I've just finished the seminal book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and a passionate women's rights campaigner.
Since launch Lean In has been everywhere and comment pieces have spread like wildfire through the media and blogosphere. I can see why.
Sheryl points out the depressing statistics that show how far we are from the ideal of a 50/50 world where women lead countries and companies in equal numbers to men. (It's certainly true in PR, I blogged about it here.) Sheryl believes this is because at critical points in our careers we 'lean back', not taking promotions or pushing ourselves forward. She documents the evidence, which says as well as facing blatant sexism, we can sometimes hold themselves back, not sit at the table or raise our hands and as a result we are struggling to get more women into leadership positions.
Sheryl makes an incredibly compelling case for women in business leaning in to their careers because she believes a world with more women leaders will be a better world for everyone.
As I read the book it dawned on me that I have been leaning in to my career before I even realised it was a thing. I've taken risks to seek out promotion, I've done things that scared me because they were good for my professional development, I've asked for a pay rise (and got it) and I've taken on the challenge of a new job just six weeks before I got married. I don't know whether I was born like this or whether I became like this, but I recognise I have been blessed with three influencing factors.
  1. My darling mum is a feminist and has a strong interest in diversity in business. She has worked for most of my life in senior executive roles and has always encouraged me to invest in my professional development and push myself forward.
  2. I've had the privilege of working for and with exceptional women leaders. Women like Lesley Roberts from Wolverhampton Homes, Sandra Spence from Black Country Housing Group and now Dame Christine Braddock from Birmingham Metropolitan College.
  3. I have a wonderful husband who is happy to do his share of the housework and doesn't have outdated views about who should do what in the home.
On rare occasions, I've also been on the receiving end of sexism. One time that sticks in the mind was when I was asked to take the minutes of a meeting when despite being more senior than every other man in the room. As my cheeks burned and I seethed with anger, I realised I was more cross at myself for blithely complying than the man who had asked me.
Some commentators have sneered at Sandberg's approach, but I think they're missing the point. If we want to live in a world where men and women are equal, we need to recognise that getting to that point will require a trailblazing generation to push forward and yes, to lean in.
Sheryl's TED talk (above) is a great place to start if you're thinking about these issues and if you want to know more on this topic the 30 per cent Club has an excellent reading list here.

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