Sheryl Sandberg, longtime COO of Meta/Facebook, recently announced she is leaving the company after 14 years.
When she joined Facebook from Google, Sheryl was widely praised for bringing adult leadership and stability to the then-fledgling company. There’s no doubt that her experience and leadership helped the company get to where it is today, and for that she should be commended.
But in 2013, she did something for which many women leaders in business have still not forgiven her: She wrote a book called Lean In, which told women that we were not succeeding because we weren’t leaning enough into our jobs–we needed to work harder and put more energy into gaining traction in order to move up the ladder in corporate America.
As someone with wealth and power, that was easy for Sheryl to say. But it didn’t trickle down to the rest of us. When I came to Silicon Valley in the late ’80s, I was often the only female manager in the room. Today, more than 30 years later, I look around and there are still very few women leaders, and almost no female CEOs.
That’s not for lack of trying. But to effect change, you need to have a structure that supports the growth and development of women leaders, which includes providing support for working mothers, and for eliminating the kind of bad behavior brought to our attention by the #MeToo movement.
Sheryl Sandberg herself walked back from the concept in her 2017 book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy–written after the untimely, tragic death of her husband. She realized this wasn’t as simple as she’d made it out to be previously.
The problem is you can’t lean in when there’s nothing to lean against. What we need to do instead is to push forward and help set the stage for success for the next generation.
Over and out, lean in.
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