Women bastardizing feminist terms at work.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and COO for Facebook and mother of two (she is kind of a big deal!), continued the conversation about women in the corporate world in her 2013 book. In true fashion, this term ‘lean in’ somehow has been twisted and used as another weapon of war with women.

Recently I was talking to a female friend who had resigned from her corporate job that afternoon. We were discussing the conversation that had occurred between her and her female boss. When my friend, let’s call her Jane, started by saying she would be leaving the firm in 3 weeks, her boss immediately replied, “yes, I thought so, you have been ‘leaning out’ lately”. This response from her boss caught Jane off guard because that was not her experience at all. Rather than stepping back, she had thrown herself into her work as a last ditch effort to ensure she had tried it all before throwing in the towel. In fact, she had for the last month been working weekends too, clocking 50-70 hours per week at the office. 

“Leaning out”? Like no longer being ambitious, or expressing that she is no longer participating in the work force? What is ‘leaning out’? I am confident that Ms. Sandberg did not imagine further isolating working women by pitting one group, those that ‘lean in’ against the others, those that ‘lean out’. This Jane is a wife and mother. She is ambitious, a hard worker, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. And she did not like the culture where she was working. 

Stop using exhaustion as a badge of honour!

10 Guideposts for Wholehearted livingMs. Sandberg highlights that women are scared to even appear to be placing their families over their careers. In order to seem like work is their first priority, they overwork themselves as an overcompensation technique. Interestingly, in the book Daring GreatlyBrené Brown talks about the 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. She urges individuals to stop wearing exhaustion like a badge of honour. Listen up mamas, she is talking to you!

It is extra hard for these women who are working in or out of the home, as well as doing the unpaid full-time job of ‘mom’. Work ethic in the office is based on hours clocked at work rather than achievements which is what it should be based on. On the whole, people are at their places of work more than before as the work day extensions continue. A recent Forbes study shows within the corporate world 62% of employees work more than 50 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours per week. We do not have to turn to the corporate work to see this phenomena. The average person over 18 years of age with a full-time job in North America works 47 hours per week. While the office work day keeps getting longer, the research is telling a different story about productivity. In some cases working from home is actually more productive and Stanford Researcher professor Nicholas Bloom has proven this with his research.

Going back to Jane, when she took the job, she was told that there was a flex time arrangement and the option of working from home on days when there weren’t any client or team meetings was available. Like most women who are offered this, Jane was hesitant to take her boss up on the offer, as she did not want to jeopardize her career or appear less committed than her peers. A few times her sick child forced her to use her work-from-home card and, as suspected, her boss said ‘nice of you to join us’ the following day when Jane returned to the office. The best part about this?! Jane’s boss, her boss’s boss and the boss above them all are all women. 

What is ‘leaning out’?

So let’s look at this ‘leaning out’ comment again. Ms. Sandberg explicitly states that leaning out would be women removing themselves from the workplace, or turning down opportunities and promotions, because they are planning to get married or have children in the future. Women essentially pull out of the race too early and miss out on some of the career growth they would receive and satisfaction/impact that would come with it. It is not in reference to prioritizing the needs of your family while you hold a corporate job. In fact, she highlights that women need to be supporting women in the corporate world. That is how we are going to shift women being normalized and respected, rather than seen as tokens or anomalies, in the corporate world.

As Madeleine Albright says, ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’

Jane’s bosses missed an opportunity there! Rather than any kind of authentic exit conversation where each party got to express what was happening for them, if they wanted, it was an immediate put down. The vice president said that she assumed Jane was going to remove herself from the corporate world since her home life seemed to require a lot of attention. Wha?! Of course a spouse and child takes attention. Just as her office job did. How are we supposed to get anywhere ladies when we are stepping on one another?! That is what Ms. Sandberg was talking about! The days of tokenism are changing. There are more women in the corporate world, not as many as there should be, however, that number is growing. You do not have to step on one another in order to take the coveted leadership spot reserved for a female. If we want to stop the gender wars then we first need to stop the us versus us war that women are waging.

Doesn’t matter if you work in or out of the home or if you have children or not, take pause. Take a moment and ask yourself how you can help a woman in your life. How can you support her and move her forward towards her goals? If we all did a little more of this and a little less bullying, our overall success and happiness scores could only improve.

Any ideas how you can make a difference for women in your work place, family or community? We would love to hear about them! Comment below and let’s continue this conversation and make some changes!

Photo credit: Matt McClain for The Washington Post
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