Women And Leadership: Lean In Or Living Out?

Lean In???

A few weeks ago, discussing her upcoming article Contributor Clara Brown told me she was writing on “leaving a door open,” for other women by women who are making their way through to the top of their game. As I read through the piece last night, making last edits, the phrase “lean-in” struck me. Ms Brown did not go into the details or origins of the concept in her article that we will post this afternoon. I too will not delve into this Motivational Monday on the lean-in concept too deep, except to juxtapose it with a couple other women leadership concepts that seem relevant to this conversation.

The Influence of Strong Women

Throughout my journey into womanhood there has been a contingent of strong women, some in corporate leadership positions, others in political leadership roles and a few educators with whom I had close ties. Then there was my mother. She was the uncontested leader of our household as she was a single mother but she also had some visible presence if not matching authority in our community.

The Influence of Strong Women

My mother was my first model of female leadership and the messages that she sent were extremely mixed. Stepping out into the working world and in my engagement on the political scene of Jamaica (where I was born) and spent the first 16 years of my life uninterrupted by travel, I met several other strong female leaders in the political and business arenas.

They scared the heck out of me!

While in awe of their accomplishments, their abilities to stand in front of a massive crowd and command attention with their delivery and presence, and their obvious management capabilities as they ran government entities or private corporations, it was hard for me to see myself as them.

Woman-to Woman: It Is Not A Level Playing Field

That chasm between them and I was not based on racial or cultural differences as these were all black, Jamaican women. My encounter with Caucasian women would come in 1981 with my first trip and stay off my island home. Then too a mentor/student relationship between the women in leadership and I could not be forged due to racial and cultural differences.

Another issue compounding the problem of absence of women leaders and mentors for me was the economic differences between us. Most of the women in leadership positions that I met, while they were busy fighting for equal pay and rights for women, their financial position was of such that they could afford to live in beautiful homes, own and drive cars or be chauffeured and dress in designer clothes. My circumstances up until my mid 30’s did not allow for any such thing.

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What Does The Future Hold For Girls?

Future of our girls
Future of our girls

Now at 50 years of age, mother and grandmother to a beautiful and obviously intelligent and curious one-year old girl, my thoughts have turned to her future and what will be my legacy. In my view, it would be awesome if I were able to give her a pile of money to help cover higher education costs, buy her first car, and even help with a deposit on her first home. My hope is that will be the case.

My greater hope is that my living will be an example to her of a woman who leaned in and lived out.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote the book that popularized the term “lean-in.” Honestly, I have not read it and will not necessarily read it as again, I cannot relate to it as my journey has not been one of “privilege.” That is not meant as a snub or critique but rather a statement of reality. It is the same statement that I made when at a very dark point of my life needing psychological support, it was important for me to find a therapist who understood personally the experience of marginalization. It was a great blessing and healing for me when a Jewish woman was recommended.

See, race and culture can be barriers to leaning in between women, so too economic and financial power. It is not just a man/woman issue neither is it black/white. While I did not read Sandberg’s book, others did and wrote great and not so accepting reviews. One that stood out for me in its critique was one by Amy Alkon in The Observer.

The Flaws of Leaning In

Basing her commentary on science, Alkon wrote that the concept is flawed. Reading through the entire article and you ought to as well here, this statement jumped at me as it has been and is my experience:

…There’s an ‘inherent conflict in unrelated females’ relations with one another’…. They very much want one another’s support-as coalition partners and for help with childcare-but ‘they must invest first and foremost in their families. ….How this plays out among women leads to some “‘confusing’ (and often ugly) relationships, with women as covert competitors, using tools including gossip and social exclusion to push down other women, especially any who dare to stand out.
The concept is not without merits, please understand that, the challenge is in the implementation. What I find lacking in many woman-to-woman relationships, particularly in the workplace are two things:
  1. Circular Vision as discussed by Glen Llopis in Forbes Magazine summing up the “6 Essential Skills All Employee Needs…” Read it here.
  2. Creating A New Way Of Leadership as discussed by Elena Aguilar in “3 Steps For Developing Girls Leadership,” that you can read here.
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Another Model For Women Leadership

What excites me about both of the above approaches is that they embrace our full humanity, our intrinsic nature and how we present in the world. Every woman experiences life differently although we share many similarities in our suffering and challenges. If each of us can appreciate that the woman in the office next to us is doing as best she can, “lean in” to support her when and however we can, while living out our own challenges and learning and modelling in such a way as to pull her forward – we might come up with another model for today’s and tomorrow’s women leaders. Some companies have already made great strides in this area by using software to put in place workplace diversity programs to mentor underrepresented employees.

Aguilar sums it up best:

Leadership is not about the role you’re in — it’s about the stance you take and the way you feel and the actions you take in any number of moments. It’s not only about being able to speak to thousands and lead them somewhere. In fact, leadership may be about the opposite, about guiding others to find their own paths, discover their own power, and speak their own truths.

How are you living out your truth in the workplace and with other women? Share your comments below as well as Subscribe to receive an update when Clara’s and other Contributors post their thoughts.

Do have a great rest of the morning and catch you later!




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31 thoughts on “Women And Leadership: Lean In Or Living Out?

  1. […] We Do Next?” I asked her to do this piece. Since Baby Justin’s passing, Clara has leaned-in many times, relying on what she calls Source to help her fill her emptiness. It has as she so […]

  2. My teen wants to be a lawyer and change the world. I can not wait to see her succeed. I love to see her make big plans about her future.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Good for her! Please keep the world posted or I guess we will see her pics all over the news when she wins some big cases πŸ™‚ Namaste

  3. I love this! How inspiring!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Thank you very, very much πŸ™‚

  4. Having a female road model is so important… little girls need someone strong to look up to! Each gal who grows up to be a successful women is one step closer to equality!

    1. Ms Claudette

      You are so right Betsy!

  5. eliz frank

    I enjoyed reading this post as it spoke to my beliefs about the need for women to mentor girls and each other. Each of us has a spark of leadership inside and it needs to be nurtured and encouraged. Some can run off and lean in on their own, while others need a supportive shoulder to lean on. Blessings and more power to you and your daughter. πŸ™‚

    1. Ms Claudette

      I thank you very much for your well wishes for my family and I. You are absolutely correct about some us needing a bit more support. I witness that every day in my paid job and in my personal endeavours. IF each of us could mentor one then we would be ahead of the game. Part of that support, however, must be to teach the other how to stand on her own two feet. I do not support co-dependency. We all must take personal responsibility for our lives and growth. Namaste.

  6. I’m all about empowering those around me. Wether it’s at home, at work, or in friendships I think we all need to be supportive of one another. Particularly have a lot of respect for women. Women wear a lot of hats that are important: leader, employee, mentor wife, friend, mother, daughter, grandmother, aunt, mentoree, and the list goes on.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Thank you so much for that thought! πŸ™‚

  7. Elizabeth O.

    Some men find it hard to accept that women can excel as leaders, too. It’s time they earn to treat us equally.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I hear you and yes, through our work they shall know us and that we are well able. πŸ™‚

  8. It’s sad that there are still people who find it hard to accept that girls should be treated as equal.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Very sad indeed but this too shall pass…maybe not in my lifetime or yours but it must Thank you for the comment! πŸ™‚

  9. There does need to be more women in leadership roles. I always cringe when I see a corporation and the top executive positions are all held by men.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I hear you. In my recent reading, noticing that the absence of women in top executive positions is so acute and glaring in the IT sector – the one that is leading us into a new way of communicating and relating. Any wonder why there is so little heart in much of our relating these days? Thanks for your comment. Namaste πŸ™‚

  10. I am not in the workforce right now, as I stay home to take care of my boys. However, when I was in a leadership position, I did find it much harder to be taken seriously as a woman. I’m not sure what we can do to change it, except keep pushing the boundaries and fighting for it.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, by doing what you suggested, it will be a constant reminder that we are here to fully participate as a God-given right AND duty! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! πŸ™‚

  11. I’m not sure I had strong female role models,but my daughter definitely experienced that through her college years. I think it made a huge difference for her.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I am happy for your daughter and I am sure some young girl is watching her progress and saying to herself, “I can do that too!” Thanks for you comment πŸ™‚

  12. I agree. Difficult time for young women especially when they can’t support one another. I love the lean in approach.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, you are right that the younger women might be finding it more difficult to offer each other support but let us hope that they “learn fast,” Thanks for you comment. πŸ™‚

  13. Women wears so many hats – mother , daughter, wife, sister, leaders, employees and so on

    1. Ms Claudette

      Indeed we do! Don’t forget bloggers πŸ™‚ Namaste

  14. I know my daughter is a very big force in a predominantly male career field but she is looked up to highly and I am so proud of her.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Re your daughter: Well done! Please let her know that there is an army of women rooting for her! Namaste

  15. There does need to be more women leaders. The more examples we have the better

    1. Ms Claudette

      I would only add the more “mindful, courageous and respectful of all” examples that we have the better. Thanks you for your comment. Namaste πŸ™‚

  16. It’s still so hard for girls to be taken seriously and treated as equal to men.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Indeed it is! What will it take for that to change some more?

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