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.
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.
What Does The Future Hold For 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.
- Circular Vision as discussed by Glen Llopis in Forbes Magazine summing up the “6 Essential Skills All Employee Needs…” Read it here.
- Creating A New Way Of Leadership as discussed by Elena Aguilar in “3 Steps For Developing Girls Leadership,” that you can read here.
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!