I’ve been promising my co-bloggers, Mary and Andrea, a post about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and call-to-action for weeks now. Since this past Saturday marked International Women’s Day, we at MercerMe, feminists all three (four including Ryan) are thinking about how we’ll inspire change for ourselves, each other, and our children. Additionally, earlier this week, Sheryl Sandberg launched another intense media campaign #BanBossy. It’s time I let it go (and, thank you Frozen, because now I’m belting out “can’t hold it back anymoooorrree”) and tell you: WHY I LEAN IN
Let me back up just a little bit, if you’re not familiar with LEAN IN, you’ve been living under a rock. I’m just going to say it. Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. She is very, very smart; she is very, very rich; and she is very, very media savvy. LEAN IN is Ms. Sandberg’s 2013 book, but really, it’s a movement. She is our generation’s very visible Gloria Steinem. The LEAN IN call-to-action is just that: calling upon women, especially women in the workplace, to take ownership of their careers by actually and physically leaning in to the conference table. Ms. Sandberg encourages women to use their voices – their strong voices – to speak up at work, to mentor and support other women, and to actively educate and support young women, especially in the science/tech/math fields. LEAN IN, and the insane amount of media attention it’s garnered, has reignited the flames of the feminist movement and inspired a national dialogue that hasn’t been seen in over 40 years. Think about that. Women’s issues, other than Roe v. Wade, have never been more present in everyday news media in our entire lives. Love it or hate it, that’s important.
I’ve written about five LEAN IN posts in my head, usually when I’m in the car, running late to pick up my kids from daycare; or when I miss a deadline at work because I LEANED IN and picked up more work than I can handle in 40 reasonable hours… those are the posts of a bitter, stressed, and overwhelmed crazy woman. But I wanted to say more than “Leaning In Sucks”. Because it doesn’t, nope, not always. So instead, I’ll tell you WHY I LEAN IN.
1. I’m genetically programmed to do it. I come from a long line (I’m totally serious) of strong working women, dating back at least 5 generations. I work. I have degree in chemical engineering. I was one of 10 women in a class of about 55 ChemE’s in 2002. In my field, while women are still heavily outnumbered, we’re visible and present. My mother, worked, still works, full-time. She’s a graphic designer, and came up during the eighties, advertising, power-women-in-shoulder-pads era. My grandmother worked until she was like, 70. She was a book keeper when business accounting was actually done by managing books and ledgers. My great-grandmother took in sewing work during the Depression; she would sew collars onto shirts at 10 cents per collar, and she saved her family’s house by doing so. Her mother was a matriarch of a large and productive farm. My sister works, my cousins work. And we are smart and we have good jobs, great jobs, and unlimited potential. We come from good, hard-working stock.
2. Because, when I was 21, I actually had a professor tell me I was TESTY, which is a synonym for BITCH, when I, during a regular project status update, complained about the performance of a few (male) team members during a senior design project. Because I was delegating, setting deadlines, and demanding performance (on which my own personal grade depended). Now, if you know me at all (college roommates, please don’t comment on this post, thankyouverymuch) there’s a measure of truth to that. However, in business and industry, and in that college class, had I been “Matthew” instead of “Merritt” (which is a bad example because my name could be for a dude, but stick with me here) I would have been assertive and goal-oriented. Word choice matters (see above reference to #BanBossy). Which brings me to…
3. I have two daughters. It is my responsibility to prepare them for any curveballs life may hurl at their heads. I can’t protect them from every hurt, every taunt, or every broken heart. But I can teach them get back up, trust their instincts, and use their voices. I can demonstrate confidence, even when I’m not feeling particularly brave. I can show them resilience, every day when I get out of bed, get dressed, grab my laptop and go to work. They will learn dedication, commitment, security, and strength from both of their parents. Not just their dad. In return, their father shows them that a true partner is supportive, kind, excellent at washing floors, and pretty good at folding laundry. I can’t predict the future, so I want them to see what those things look like from me, in case they choose to take that path in 30 years. And this isn’t exclusive to daughters.
Now, that’s not to say that I’m drinking all of the Kool-Aid here. While, in my humble opinion, I truly believe that this matters, that this is big, and this is important; I’m perfectly aware of the double standards of this topic. Underneath all of the cheerleader-rah-rah, there’s a lot of privilege. There’s a lot of wealth. There’s a lot of support. Let’s be honest here, if I had Ms. Sandberg’s paycheck and her nannies, I’d be leaning in all over town. But my daycare center closes at 6:00, that vacuum doesn’t push itself, and I’ve got more bills to pay than I’m comfortable talking about.
But the concept, it’s really something. And it’s really something when you get to talking about it. To me, that’s the best part. Because that’s women, talking to other women, about how to be awesome women. And we’re talking about the hard stuff. Now imagine the conversation never stopped in the last 40 years… where would we be, what would we be talking about? That’s Leaning In. It’s teaching other women to find their voices. It’s making sure that “executive leadership skills” applies to both young women and young men. It’s making sure that we’re saving each other seats at the table for the next 40 years. And not just saving seats, but making room, and spreading out.
Why do you LEAN IN?