No, I’m not talking about where you fall on the political spectrum. Coming off of International Women’s Day earlier this month, you may be feeling inspired and empowered. This day, dedicated to cultivating change for a more inclusive, gender equal world, gained traction pretty much everywhere I turned on March 8. I’m glad it did—but let’s not let the momentum die there. It’s what we each do every day that will truly effect change.
I recently finished the book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Her words were inspiring to say the least, and I have my overly highlighted, folded-down-corner hard copy of the book to prove it (old school, I know). During my week-long journey with this book, I found myself nodding along, questioning past actions, experiencing a few (OK, many) aha moments and ultimately feeling grateful for the strong female role models and supportive men in my life.
As I read the last page (I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me chills), I couldn’t just close the book and move on with life, status quo. I want to join the conversation in the hopes that you will too. Whether you’re male or female, whether you’ve read the book or not, Sandberg made so many points that we can all benefit from hearing. Her quotes I selected below are just the beginning, and you can see how and why each got me thinking about whether I jump right in or hold back; whether I lean in or out.
1.) “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” You have to love a book that starts chapter one with a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone wake-up call, right off the bat—one that I found to be exciting, while also making me squirm when thinking of the times that I’ve let fear hold me back. But my first true epiphany happened as I made my way through a few more pages. “Young women internalize societal cues about what defines ‘appropriate’ behavior and, in turn, silence themselves.” So, it’s not just those pesky historical gender norms and those “other people” somewhere out there feeding the beast that is the gender gap? I might actually be an unknowing contributor? Yes. For every time that we sit back when we should “lean in” and “sit at the table,” we’re building momentum for those outdated standards instead of stopping them in their tracks. Step number one, let’s stop that now.
2.) “Currently, only 24 percent of women in the United States say that they consider themselves feminists.” When I read this, I started thinking about where I fall in terms of the feminist label. Sandberg talks about the many times where she would have denied that exact label because of the extreme picture it tends to paint. She also says that when women know the real definition of it (“…someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes”), that view often changes, as it did for me. In the end, maybe not being a feminist is the more extreme of the two views.
3.) “None of this is attainable unless we pursue these goals together. Men need to support women and, I wish it went without saying, women need to support women too.” I feel very fortunate to work in a place that champions women—and with women and men who encourage and champion one another, regardless of gender. However, Sandberg’s multiple examples show that this, unfortunately, isn’t a typical scenario—and that needs to change. It’s not just “my issue” or “your issue” or a “women’s issue”—we all have the responsibility to spark change by supporting one another.
My favorite thing about this book is that it doesn’t end on the last page. Sandberg encourages us to join the conversation and push for a society that isn’t so lopsided. The question is, are you in?
Beth is Account Executive at AKHIA.