It doesn’t really matter whether Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s much-anticipated book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is a great read. It doesn’t matter because it’s already done its job.
That’s because the book has already spurred badly needed – and hopefully well-reasoned — discussion about the role of women in the corporate world. Much of the news we read today is so polarizing resorting to black and white positioning and simply doesn’t address the complexity of the issue.
That said, the idea that women need to “lean in” is a good one, we do need to own our careers and be accountable for our performance although it’s only half of the equation.
The other half? Companies and leaders need to remove barriers they have to women being promoted.
For starters, we need to stay away from the either/or thinking that’s too prevalent today in all walks of life. There don’t have to be winners and losers in every debate. Women can’t just be expected to keep raising their hands for promotions and doing everything to be ready if their organizations aren’t prepared to remove potential barriers that may exist for these women.
Instead, let’s add and to our conversations. For example, women need to own their careers and employers need to be conscious of the barriers (inadvertent or otherwise) they may have in their companies. In addition, the ground rules must note that conversations should ponder aspiration/leadership goals/ability, as well as company needs. Let’s not make assumptions about a woman’s desire to have a family as a sign she couldn’t be interested in having a career. Let’s also stop assuming every woman wants or has children. We cheat ourselves as women when we don’t allow all of us to be part of the conversation.
• Studies repeatedly show that men get promoted on potential, while women get promoted on performance. That’s a double standard that companies can work to correct.
• A high percentage of women in management roles express their interest in future promotions, yet there is huge fall off of women in mid-level management roles. We cannot oversimplify the “why” of this critical issue. It’s not just because women want to have families.
• It’s not just a lack of “will” that keeps women from being promoted –if it’s a lack of a skill or skills, that can be remedied with development programs. Instead, companies and bosses need to consider unconscious biases (for example, she’s too young, she’s a mother, she won’t travel because she has children) to create a workplace where women can go after the opportunities that interest them.
As women continue to take ownership of their career’s, competencies and goals and companies take ownership of their internal practices, address unconscious bias and solve the issues mentioned above we will go a long way toward creating a place where women are “leaning in” and leading away.