One of our clients, The Anita Borg Institute (ABI), recently announced its founding member status of the newly-launched, Lean In.org, a group founded by Sheryl Sandberg to encourage women to lean in to their careers and ambitions.
As I learn more about The Anita Borg Institute and what they do for women and companies looking to support women in tech, I can’t help but think of my own career path and the benefits I would have had had I worked for employers who had offered training for my career. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a client – and I’ve worked with hundreds, where I could put myself at the center of the debate, cause or issue. Now, I can. It’s eye opening to hear the real stories of women who have reached the pinnacle of their careers in technology – women at the highest ranks at IBM, Microsoft and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and to learn about their fears and self doubts. Yes, fears. How come I didn’t think they had any? Well, as it turns out, they did. They just made a conscious choice to lean into those fears vs. lean away from them. I guess it paid off.
I’ve always felt that I have “leaned in” to my opportunities in various activities, in college, graduate school and throughout my rewarding communications career. It still had me scratching my head though wondering — have I leaned in enough? If I were to be honest with myself, however, I’d have to say that there were times when I’ve leaned in, then leaned out and then leaned in again. That’s a lot of leaning, and it makes me dizzy just thinking about it!
Regardless, I was always “driving” during these leaning in/leaning out phases just lightening up on the pedal from time to time. I like to think this approach was less about being a woman professional and more about being a human being. Certain life events — both work and non-work related — just call for a certain amount of action, intensity and focus.
This whole Lean In initiative is very interesting. Based on Sandberg’s book about this issue, her mantra is simply that women themselves limit their own opportunities vs. embracing them due to fear and concern over the future when juggling work and family becomes a reality. To avoid too much angst even before that time comes, women simply check out/lean out. To a certain extent, women are mad about this, saying that in many industries, including tech, the work environment is simply not conducive to the demands of work and family. Sandberg is saying that the answer is not to lean away from opportunities because of this, but to fight for what women need in the workplace to better balance the demands and, go for it vs. stopping. While not an easy task, it’s a task worth fighting for and everyone benefits. It was refreshing to see Cisco’s John Chambers come out in support of finding a better work environment for women helping them embrace tech careers.
What I find most inspiring in this entire debate and through many examples is the notion that successful women win because they found a way to succeed on their own terms vs. on others’ terms. The Anita Borg Institute is a proponent of this as well. Sheryl Sandberg even talked about how she had to assert herself in the boardroom to be heard. While she had to do this, I suspect she did it in her own way vs. the way her male colleagues would have approached this. And whether fearful or fearless, she had to find a way to just do it.
This is where I get inspiration. If we feel there is one way or a “best way” at going after something, then we might tend to lean away. If it’s already been done in a successful way, how can we compete? And who wants to copy that anyway?
Thus, leaning in for me means finding my own way and then not looking back. And while still not perfect in this pursuit, whether tested in life or work, this path would seem the shortest path to true success.