In April 2013, I wrote a blog called Why Now Is a Great Time to Lean In. It was a month after Sheryl Sandberg’s game-changing book Lean In came out and now it is almost a year later. If you haven’t heard about it, quite a lot has happened in a mere 12 months.
I believe every working person – woman and man – needs to read it if only to understand the changes that are underway in the world. But perhaps the most important thing that has happened is that thousands of women are now talking with one another about what is really going on in the workplace and are identifying what needs to change.
Sheryl created LeanIn.org to enable this online and in-person dialogue between the world’s women. I joined the groups, called “circles,” in New York City and New Jersey. The instruction to the Lean In circles is simple. Women are asked to gather and to support one another’s choices, whatever they might be. This, of course, flies in the face of decades of socialization which has told women to be competitive, wary, and withholding.
When I heard Sheryl speak in September 2013 at a Lean In event in New York City, she announced that there are 9,000 Lean In circles in 60 countries. Now five months later the number of circles is up to 14,000. This is a movement that has caught fire and here’s the truly great part: it’s only just begun.
So ladies, can we talk? If you agree that the workplace has plenty of room for improvement, here are 10 really easy ways for you to make a difference in your work and maybe even in your life.
1. Lean In to your words. Words matter and can alter perception. Let’s stop referring to ourselves as “girls” in the workplace which not-so-subtly diminishes and demeans. Use “colleagues,” “co-workers,” “women,” “ladies,” or “fellow staffers.” Let’s also stop using the word “bossy” which is a word with negative connotations that typically only refers to women and not men. Sheryl pointed out that there is a word for “bossy” in every country and not in a good way.
Let us work to eliminate the need for the words “catty,” “undermining,” and the like. You know what the words I mean.
Women can inspire and motivate respect when we show respect for ourselves and one another by the words we choose to describe ourselves.
2. Lean In and share. Collaborate, mentor, and share information. Actively seek opportunities to find out what other women are great at and what problems they are trying to solve. Pool your efforts towards a common goal and don’t keep score. Distribute relevant articles that you feel will be helpful and encourage others to do the same.
For example, mentors are critical when it comes to negotiating. Generally speaking, women are not natural negotiators and therefore, we need support from others to navigate salary negotiations and annual reviews. Negotiating successfully has everything to do with closing the wage gap.
3. Lean In and support women leaders. Find your voice and speak up. When you believe in them, give your full support to women who seek leadership positions and say so. Congratulate colleagues on their successes. Offer praise for a job well done. Say things like, “I see what you are doing, and I think it is great.” Write an email to say thank you for going above and beyond. Give credit to others in staff meetings. Offer help on a project. These positive actions feed on one another and are contagious. The same is true for negative actions, isn’t it?
4. Lean In on social media. In whatever group you are a part of on LinkedIn, respond and participate in discussions that mean something to you. You can “Like” a discussion but also add your own opinions and support for others. This is a powerful way to lean in and become known in your professional community. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter, and the other platforms you follow.
This is an example of a real connection request on LinkedIn. Doesn’t it make you want to connect?
Thank you for your wonderful contributions. Love this group. Let’s all work together to create the necessary changes. Please let me know how I can help you.
5. Lean In with technology. Return emails and phone calls. Don’t you remember who has ignored your emails or calls? Others do too. Even if you cannot help another or you are not interested in their project, please take a moment to write back to say, “I wish you all the best with your project, but I simply have too much on my plate to take it on. Thank you for letting me know.” That will be perceived as professional and will eliminate the temptation to feel insulted or dismissed.
6. Lean In against the “haters.” You’ve heard the saying, no good deed goes unpunished? Don’t let that stop you from leaning in. No matter how well intentioned your actions are to lean in, there will be other people who are frightened by it and will be negative. You might hear, “Why do you want to help Jane? What has she ever done for you?” Trust your gut.
7. Lean In to not take things personally. This is hard sometimes but 9 times out of 10, it’s about them and not you. We are in a 24/7 instant access world moving at warp speed. How many emails do you receive each day? How many texts and IMs? We are all on overload. Please keep your perspective and not only cut others a break, but cut yourself some slack too. If you have a question, simply ask, “I just want to clarify what you meant by XYZ.”
On top of all that, technology is not 100% foolproof. If you have ever experienced a computer crash, a cell phone that dies mysteriously, a voice mail that was not received or an email that disappeared into cyberspace, then keep that in mind in your communications. Taking things personally is often a waste of time and your good energy.
8. Lean In by respecting other women. Respectful professionalism is the secret sauce to leaning in with unbridled success in today’s workplace. To view others as individuals and doing simple things such as saying “please” and “thank you” matters. Manners, courtesy, and respect as your default behavior can make all the difference.
9. Lean In by joining groups and participating. Whether it is a Lean In circle or one of a thousand groups you can belong to, choose to be a woman who helps other women without an agenda or ulterior motive. Give it a try. The best way to find a mentor is to be one and you will have this opportunity both online and in person. Networking is most powerful when your question to another woman is, “What do you need next and how can I help?”
10. Lean In to fight the fear of change. It is human nature to resist change but change we must in our complicated and demanding workplace. Women need to embrace change in order to reduce the inequities in the workplace such as women making .77 cents to every dollar a man makes. Our only alternative is to maintain the status quo which does not work given that more than half of the working population are women. Change feels uncomfortable, but the feeling lasts for just a little while. As Sheryl says, “We will move towards a new normal in a world where there are many more women leaders. Eventually, we’ll all stop being so surprised by it.”
As I wrote last April, leaning in means caring enough to be heard and to make a difference not only for ourselves, but for our daughters and our sons. As a 30-year professional woman, I am happy I lived to see this day. Look around. The future is now. What do you need next and how can I help?