woman locked outThere’s been a lot of talk about how women need to lean in to achieve their goals in life. We need to lean in to be heard at work, to get that promotion or to land that big office and even bigger salary. Or so say some people. Mostly women.

And that’s bothering me. A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Mommy Wars. You know, the way moms judge other moms for making different decisions about childcare or household rules or lifestyle.  We know that kind of in-fighting among women doesn’t do any of us any good. We’re all doing our best to care for our kids, right?

So the more I look at these articles and books saying that women aren’t reaching their potential in business or government because they don’t lean in feels more like the mommy wars than a helpful hand. Once again, it’s women telling other women that they don’t try hard enough. That they’re making the wrong choices.

It’s framed as helpful, but for the millions of women who are struggling to survive in their careers, battling to be heard, to move up, it can easily come as a put-down.  They’re being told that their failure to reach the upper echelons is not because of the existing powers that be…it’s because they didn’t try hard enough. And that’s neither helpful, nor accurate.

Harvard Business Review came to the same conclusion in an article about women and business leadership awhile back….

It hasn’t proven as natural as we all thought for women to break into the leadership ranks of the corporate world. All the companies I work for have learned that gender balance is a result of highly proactive management pushing, not a complacent declaration that outsiders can succeed in the existing system by trying harder.

A more recent article in the Huffington Post carried on the same theme, by pointing out that in 2011, 57 % of all bachelor’s degrees went to women. And  in the U.S., women now hold 51 % of the PhDs, 47 % of law degrees and 45% of all business degrees at the Masters Degree level. And yes, despite all the leaning in all of this education represents,

…only 14% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and fewer than one in 5 law firm partners are female.

So is it really fair to say that it’s our fault? Is it even helpful to suggest that it is? Especially when that blame is coming from another woman!

So what are we to do?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with leaning in to aim for the goals we want in life, whether it’s at work, at home or at your child’s school.  But we need to get the men who currently hold the power to understand the value of sharing that power with women.  We need to develop a language to articulate those benefits to the men holding the doors closed. Do we know how? Not yet. But it has to be done. We can’t simply storm the gates en masse and expect the walls to fall down…and the exceptional woman who does break through doesn’t really change it for the rest of us.

But  above all, we, as women, need to help other women enter those spaces still so male dominated. But we don’t do that by putting down and blaming. We do that by extending a hand. I have to wonder if Sheryl Sandberg is doing much of that.

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