By now most of you have probably read about or even finished Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. In it, she talks about the barriers that women face in the workplace. As I sailed through her book last week – a gift from my mother the day it was released – her words spoke to me. Everything she had to say, I’ve personally worried about, felt and experienced.
Sandberg has been blasted for being out of touch, especially for her proposal of ‘lean-in circles,’ monthly meetings for women to come together and discuss problems in their community. As Jodi Kantor notes in the New York Times: “Will working women, already stretched thin, attend nighttime [lean in circles]?”
Ironically – or perhaps not at all – my work focuses on bringing women together in group settings to discuss maternal heath problem facing their communities. If these women – who perform never-ending back-breaking work only to barely provide for their families – are able to find an hour or two once a month to come together, why can’t we?
Women’s groups not only provide social and emotional support to women in their community, but they also serve as a forum for women to share both successful and failed experiences, in this case, about good health practices. The result? Neonatal mortality was reduced by a whopping 45 percent, maternal depression by 57 percent and several maternal deaths averted. If this simple method can save lives, why can’t it be used to change the status of women in the workplace?
To that end, I’m certain that Ms. Sandberg’s request for women to share positive stories during the meetings wasn’t meant to dissuade women from sharing “missed promotions or broken marriages,” as Kantor claims. Rather, it’s meant for women to share stories of how they found strength to overcome these professional barriers and emotional setbacks.
So before you blast Ms. Sandberg for being out of touch with the lives of women ‘not like her,’ take a step back and really think about her message. Because if there is something to learn from this small rural town thousands of miles away from the wealth and opportunity of Silicon Valley, it’s that, regardless of social status and wealth, women have come together to share, learn and speak out against the only culture, tradition and norms they know to exist and fight for better lives for themselves and their families.
In other words, these women , who have never heard of Sheryl Sandberg, are leaning in.