Article: Should women 'lean in' or 'lean out'


Should women 'lean in' or 'lean out'

Hedge fund billionaire, Mississippi governor & British MP re-ignite debate over role of women at the workplace
Should women 'lean in' or 'lean out'

We still live in an age where any record set by any woman is a big deal


Cheerful women are judged to be less willing to take up leadership roles than men who display similar emotions


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Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg had triggered many a debate on the role of women in the workplace. Mayer, Yahoo!’s Chief Executive Officer, shot to fame when she decided to put a stop to work-from-home policy of the internet giant. The dust over that debate is still settling down. In the meantime, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer has all but drawn swords. “Men still run the world, and I’m not sure how well that’s going,” Sandberg opined at a D11 conference in southern California.

Gender issues at the workplace are gaining more prominence with more and more controversies being generated everyday. Three incidents that occurred over the past two weeks prove that the debate will continue to intensify.

A Tory MP warned the British Parliament that female doctors are putting a strain on the National Health Service. “When they go into practice and then in the normal course of events will marry and have children, they often want to go part-time and it is obviously a tremendous burden training what effectively might be two GPs working part-time where they are ladies,” she said. “I think that is something that is going to put a huge burden on the health service.”

These incidents, if anything, just pour more oil on the already raging fire of gender issues at the workplace. They come at a time when companies across the globe are trying to address the skewed gender ratio in their workplaces.

We still live in an age where any record set by any woman is a big deal. The Ivy League business schools are a prime example of this. Harvard Business School expects to enroll 41 per cent of this year’s incoming MBA class, according to preliminary data released on June 3, up from 40 per cent last year and 35 per cent in 2003. Women made up 42 per cent of last year’s incoming MBA class at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and 35 per cent at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Why is the role of women at a workplace such a raging issue? When Sandberg through her book “Lean In” asked women to lean into their professional side and out of their personal side, she got lambasted by columnists and reviewers. Melissa Gira Grant, who writes for the Washington Post, criticized Sandberg for relying on a staff “to help keep house, raise her children and throw her women's leadership parties,” while a USA Today column accused her of waging a “war on moms”.

So, are women their own worst enemies? It would seem so going by the reactions and also according to the survey conducted among the members of LinkedIn's Professional Women's Network Group as reported by the New York Daily News. Women's reluctance to ask for a raise acts as a roadblock when it comes to advancements in the workplace, according to the survey conducted in March among 954 members of the group. Only one in four professional women asked about receiving a raise in the last year. However, 75 per cent of the workers who did enquire got the wage bump.

When asked what was holding them back professionally, many of the survey respondents cited a lack of promotion opportunities (41 per cent), hesitancy when it came to taking time away from family and personal life (30 per cent), and a disinterest in staying put at their current companies long enough to climb the ranks (20 per cent). Even Sandberg felt that women do not negotiate for themselves in the workforce.

Now, this really begs the question: Are women not aggressive enough? “When you say the word woman people think you’re asking for special treatment or about to sue them,” Sandberg said.

It would also seem that cheerful women are judged to be less willing to take up leadership roles than men who display similar emotions. Economic researchers at Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM) in Germany found that cheerful women are not associated with leadership qualities - but proud ones are.

“To increase their share of leadership positions, women are expected to tick a range of boxes - usually demonstrating improved negotiation skills, networking strengths and the ability to develop a strategic career ladder. But even these skills are not enough,” said Professor Isabell Welpe of TUM's Chair for Strategy and Organisation.

Female managers who did not delegate decision-making power were viewed less favorably than male bosses who behaved the same way. “There is still the belief that men in leadership positions show more assertiveness towards their staff,” comments Professor Welpe. “The surprising thing is that some female stereotypes are more reinforced in the minds of women themselves – for example their tendency to accept a dominant leadership style in men.”

The debate over the role of women at the workplace is not going to die down anytime soon. These points in the article are an overview of the kind of challenges that working women face and in order to break the glass ceiling consistently, she has to break down stereotypes and thumb a nose at the critics without losing focus of her goals. 

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Topics: Diversity

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