July 18, 2014

Businesswomen

It doesn't always pay off to lean in. Credit: Dick Vos / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

The idea of getting women to "lean in" has gained major traction in the last year, following the publication of Sheryl Sandberg's best-selling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg calls on women to demand the same rights as men in the workforce - and to seek out challenges, promotions, and equal pay. 

But while the advice might be a good idea, it is not practical, according to Maria Konnikova, a writer at The New Yorker. In fact, these demands might be detrimental. Konnikova, who details the consequences of Sandberg's mantra in her recent New Yorker article points to recent research suggesting that "leaning in" actually hurts a woman's professional aspirations. 

"Aggression comes at a cost when you're female," says Konnikova. "When women try to negotiate too hard, when they are a little bit too aggressive and take the 'lean in' advice too much at face value, they risk having a huge backlash. Sometimes they would have been better off pursuing a more subtle strategy."

Konnikova argues that success stories like Sandberg's can be attributed to both skill and good fortune. But due to deeply-embedded gender inequality, these success stories are the exception, not the rule.

"I'm not trying to underestimate or undervalue [Sandberg's] skills, but luck always plays a huge part in it. She had good mentors; she was in the right places at the right times. And she got lucky that the people she was negotiating with accepted her negotiation, rather than pushing back. Whether or not we like it, these biases exist in the world. What worked for me might not work for you, because I got lucky and you might not," notes Konnikova.

While there have been major gains for women in the last century, she says that evidence suggests it's smarter to err on the side of caution when looking at the future of gender equality.

"From women not having the right to vote, we now have more subtle, more nuanced, more ambiguous biases. Are we ever going to see complete equality? I honestly don't know...So far, the only evidence we've had throughout history has been to the contrary."

To hear more of Konnikova's take on "leaning in" and the future of gender equality, listen to the full interview, above.

innovation hub, Business, Sheryl Sandberg, Maria Konnikova

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