What Does "Leaning In" Mean for Working Moms?

What does "Lean In" Mean For Working Moms?
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In early 2013, the term "leaning in" started popping up on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The term comes from the book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" published in March 2013 by Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The book traces its origins to a 2010 TED Talk Sheryl Sandberg gave titled "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders". The point of her message was to convince professional women to stay in the workforce and "lean in" to whatever role they are playing. Here are the three key points of her talk.

Sit at the Table

She said that when a man succeeds he attributes himself, but when a woman succeeds she attributes it to other, luck or that she worked really really hard. She encourages women to reach for opportunities and promotions, and, most important, believe that we deserve them. She shared examples of how women felt they weren't worthy of moving up in their company. Mrs. Sandberg urges professional women to change this negative perspective, get off the sidelines and "sit at the table".

Sitting at the table means to not let opportunities pass you by. To make your voice heard, loud and clear.  And to be audacious enough to ask for what you deserve. Bring your chair to the table, sit up straight and "lean in".

Make your Partner a "Real" Partner

She says, "If a woman and a man work full-time and have a child, the woman does twice the amount of housework and three times as much childcare." It's a proven statistic and it hurts to hear it.  It's no wonder women drop out of the workforce. Men and women need to contribute equally at home if women are to succeed more in the workplace.

This means asking for help when you need it. It also means delegating, even when you haven't been invited to do so. Sit down with your partner and talk about the housework and what you'd like them to help you with. When you set expectations everyone understands what they need to do.

Don't Leave Before You Leave

Mrs. Sandberg spoke about how when a woman starts thinking about she'll fit the demands of a child into her life this is when she starts thinking about leaving her job.  She called this quietly "leaning back" in her TED talk.  She goes on to advise professional women that your job needs to be worth leaving your child for.  It needs to engage and excite you, because if not, this is when you'll start quietly leaning back. To avoid quietly leaning back Mrs. Sandberg urges pregnant women to keep their foot on the gas pedal until the day you leave for maternity leave and never a moment before that.

Lean In and Go For It

She goes on to talk about how women, unintentionally, hold themselves back in their careers. Then she uses the infamous phrase "lean in", seek challenges, and continue to pursue their career goals without fear.

If you are lean in Sheryl Sandberg believes you'll more likely be promoted regardless if you have small children. She said you may not have a tough time juggling work and family in your new role. You'll feel audacious about your hard work. And when the day comes that you're offered a promotion you'll ask "Why not me? rather than questioning "Why me?".

At heart of this story what Sheryl Sandberg is doing is challenging the notion that working moms need to choose between work and family.  She's challenging that the mommy track is the best option for all working mothers. Rather than focusing on what you can't do or on the barriers to your advancement, she urges women to focus on the positive, lo look for possibilities and to seize the day. She has said she always hoped to start a social movement, and "leaning in" is the incarnation of that desire.

Here is a quote from Mrs. Sandberg's book that sums up her mission beautifully:

I have written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential.  I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto.  And I am hoping that each man will do his part to support women in the workplace and in the home, also with gusto.  As we start using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will be more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow stereotypes.

Before you decide to quit your job, consider whether "leaning in" would be a better choice for you. If you're confused about that or what support with setting your personal goals hire a coach and get clear.