Leaning in: Results needed not celebrity branded hot air

It has been almost impossible to go online or pick up a newspaper in the last couple of weeks without reading about Sheryl Sandberg’s tips on ” leaning in”. How and why the advancement of women in the workplace has stalled. And it has indeed stalled. The barrage of verbiage on the matter has been overwhelming, with global pundits, male and female, wading in ad nauseam, analysing almost every word and angle in the minutest detail.

The reaction to the book itself has perhaps fascinated me more than the issues it raises.

Statistics from any developed economy would suggest that since anti-discrimination legislation hit the statute books 40 years ago, although changes have been taking place, there is still a disconnect for women between some wider cultural developments and workplace practises. 60% of graduates are women, yet they occupy only a small percentage of senior roles.You don’t have to be a Think Tank whizz to see that something is clearly out of sync.

Sandberg’s book is a vocal rallying call to to examine thoroughly all the underlying elements of this conundrum. As one of the most powerful women globally, with a reported $500 million fortune, she has leveraged her international klout to stimulate this discussion.

Counter views

But despite opening a global debate, the world is still not without it’s cynics. Some women claim that they have leaned in so far that they have almost fallen over. Others suggest that organisations are so leaned back to be almost horizontal. Another contingent suggest that these high profile initiatives, with change from the top down led by multi-millionaire women, skirt over the core question that what is currently on offer, may not be worth leaning in for. It has not gone unnoticed that both Wal-Mart and Citibank are on the Lean In Board of Advisers. Neither company has an unblemished track record with regard to their female employees working in the trenches. They are now being whitewashed via their alignment to what has within weeks become the hot global Lean In brand.

Old chetsnut

Let’s not forget either that this conversation has truthfully been going on for years without her. However, her celebrity persona has allowed her to re-ignite it, but more importantly make it highly visible and give it instant credibility. What she is doing is simply re-branding an existing message. We live in a culture where celebrity endorsement influences many of our basic decisions and thought processes: the face creams we use, the food we buy and the cars we’re driving. Sandberg says there is gender imbalance, thus it is so. Her call to action has produced an almost evangelical response from a group of born-again feminists who have now seen the diversity light.

The book has undoubtedly acted as the flint needed to create that vital spark to ignite a floundering and tired discussion. That can only be good. But reciting the number of ” likes” on the Lean In Facebook page (148k today) starting countless monthly Lean In circles with their down-loadable Lean In circle kits, cutesy potluck dinners and “book club /volunteer approach“, will I’m sure be jolly good fun, but will have little real value if nothing concrete comes of it all. What we are seeing, as anyone who was around then knows well, is something similar to the consciousness raising activities of the 60s and 70s.

It now up to everyone involved in any part of this process to fan those flames to stimulate the right level of engagement to produce meaningful outcomes from those many discussions. More is needed from this fire than celebrity endorsed and branded hot air and smokescreens. And talking in “circles” .

We need real change and at a faster pace.

3Plus International set up to support women at every stage of their professional lives to achieve career success via the provision of mentoring , coaching and sponsorship programmes. www.3plusinternational.com


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