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Op/Ed

Instead of ‘leaning in,’ women leaders are opting to ‘lean out’

(EDITORIAL) Many women have tried to “lean in,” but as that sets many back, they’re opting to “lean out” and forge their own path.

leader lean out

We’ve been reporting on how many of “truisms” about women in the workplace are actually myths. Women do ask for raises and try to negotiate – they just aren’t heard. Women do possess the qualities that our culture looks for in leaders – they simply aren’t seen as being “feminine” characteristics, and so are coded negatively.

One of the most pervasive of these gendered myths is the concept of “leaning in.” As famously defined by Sheryl Sandberg, the advice to “lean in” and volunteer for additional responsibilities at work implies that women aren’t already doing so. That’s false (and a harmful stereotype to perpetuate).

No matter the industry, women do lean in. The truth is they often aren’t given credit for it when they do.

It should come as no shock then that after “leaning in” and not receiving additional credit, better compensation, or increased recognition in their companies — many women and minorities are getting frustrated with trying to change a status quo that isn’t interested in changing. Instead they are opting to “lean out.”

They are simply leaving and creating opportunities elsewhere.

One example of someone opting to lean out is Allison Baum, recently profiled by Quartz. A VC professional, Baum tried leaning in at her company only to receive minimal appreciation. She attributes this lack of progress to the way that her corporation wasn’t set up to help women succeed.

The Guardian ran a shocking report last year about the negligence of many of society’s safety systems (like seat belts!) that failed. Literally. They failed to incorporate women’s bodies as part of their designs.

Eventually, Baum left and founded her own VC firm. Leaning out allowed her to not only create an opportunity for herself, but to in turn create more opportunities for women and other minorities in the tech field.

If you’re in a position of authority, or are in a position where you are thinking of how you can best build your company so that all your employees can succeed, let Baum’s story illustrate the restrictions of only thinking about business in a “traditional” fashion.

In order to encourage the diversity that you need to grow and thrive, the very fabric of your team or organization must be built with more than one image of success in mind.

AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

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