Leaning In, Together

I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In.  For the most part I like it very much, with one caveat. W50 Summit Diane Paddison blog

For me, no discussion of work life balance is complete without faith. I believe that work and family are best served through a relationship with one God, one Holy Spirit and one Son of God through prayer, studying scripture, and being “in community” with other believers.

That said, Sandberg’s book is thought-provoking, and she offers some great practical advice. In the last few weeks, her book has generated a lot of buzz and a fair amount of criticism. The major complaint seems to be that although Sandberg acknowledges the circumstances that may unfairly hold women back (sexism, discrimination, outdated work models, etc.), she doesn’t spend much time trying to fix those circumstances. Instead, she encourages women to overcome whatever internal barriers may be holding them back, and to push forward despite the circumstances.

I don’t make a lot of movie references, but there’s a great scene in Pixar’s Finding Nemo that really brings this home for me. At one point in the movie, one of the main characters gets swept up in a fishing net with many other fish. All the fish are struggling to free themselves. They’re swimming in all directions, bumping into each other, confusing one another, and getting nowhere – until they start swimming in the same direction. To break the net, the fish have to do something counterintuitive: they have to swim directly down into it. I think they also sing a song together, but that’s probably not strictly necessary outside the world of cartoon fish.

I don’t know enough about commercial fishing to know whether this kind of thing happens in real life, but it’s a great visual. Many women pursuing professional careers find themselves feeling trapped by discrimination, inflexible work hours, lack of child care, their own insecurities, and thousands of other things. To compensate, some women take the path of least resistance.  Others look for escape.  Most are simply trying to survive, and a lot of us are swimming in different directions. The great message of Lean In is that the best way to change these circumstances, for yourself and for all women, is to worry less about what the “net” is doing to you, and start leaning directly into it – without reservation, and with each other.

After all, women can’t affect corporate culture from the sidelines.  The most effective change will come from the inside out.

Last week, I got to experience this in a real way, as I took part in the W50 Summit, a program organized by Harvard Business School to celebrate and accelerate the advancement of women leaders making a difference in the world. Over two days I met many of inspiring women, including Sheryl Sandberg and her mom, Adele. It was truly uplifting and educational. It left me feeling confident about the collective power of women.

If there is one message I took from it to pass on to my daughters and their friends, it is that success is possible. A whole generation of trailblazers has preceded you and proved that you can ‘break the nets’ and achieve the goals that you have set out for yourselves, regardless of your circumstances.

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What kinds of things keep you from leaning in at work?

Check out the 4word Facebook page for pics from Harvard’s W50 Summit – Diane’s husband Chris who is “more than a partner”, Diane with Sheryl’s mom Adele, and more.