Lean In But Thrive


I have invested much of my life encouraging women to lead, invest, and create companies, to contribute to the health of our economy and society. I have invested at least as much time teaching those in positions of power that empowering women makes economic, business, financial and social sense. The available data is convincing, when women get a seat at the table, the conversation changes, the quality of the decisions improves and the bottom line benefits and so do all stakeholders. However true this is, the data also shows that progress is still slow and challenges remain in the way of closing the gender gap.

Media has shown increased interest in these issues as of late. We read stories that range from too few women in the boardroom to female executives opting out, right as they make it to the upper echelons of the corporate world. There are abundant theories as to why there are so few women in key decision-making positions and why women may be opting out.

If you ask a male CEO to explain why this is so, he is likely to suggest that it has a lot to do with the pipeline. There are simply too few women with the right background and experience to enter the C-suite or assume board-level positions. If you ask an experienced female executive she is likely to challenge commonly accepted stereotypes of what constitutes a great CEO or board director and question a corporate culture that at times seems to have failed to meet the needs of women who seek not just profit, but also purpose in their work.

Sheryl Sandberg made a valuable contribution to an informed dialogue about the challenges that remain in place at work and at home when it comes to truly empowering women in top leadership positions. She deserves a lot of credit for encouraging women and many men to lean into leadership and confront some of their own limitations and unconscious bias. Some have found her message too focused on just women leaning in and think that corporations and their leaders also need to explore the underlying assumptions at work, many of which may not be supportive of women and men who are looking for more than “the relentless pursuit of economic profit.” To me, women (and men who think like them), should lean in, embrace power and ask for more. Once they get a seat at the table they should make sure to use it to make an impact by challenging underlying and outdated assumptions and introducing innovative ideas and solutions. This will allow us to develop business and organizational culture that better supports our ability to work and live in a sustainable way.

A work culture that demands that you are on and connected 24/7, is effectively questioned in Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive. Arianna explains well the personal, corporate and societal costs of an organizational culture that embraces “working around the clock” and puts work above all else in life, be it family/personal life, health or happiness. She makes a convincing case for the value of taking care of your health, making time for family/self, vacations and meditations. She speaks from experience and we all know stories that match hers, some with a less happy ending.

Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington have made important contributions to the dialogue about women and work and work culture in general. They are both visible role models and their passionate quests are underpinned with empirical data and solid experiences as women leaders and entrepreneurs. One encourages us to lean in, the other to thrive and there is probably not a single female or male executive who hasn’t confronted a situation that seems to force you to choose, one or the other.

I personally and professionally appreciate both messages equally and find them to have great merit. I have never agreed with the tyranny of either-or in business or in life and I simply choose to embrace the beauty of both, but sometimes this is not possible at the same time. However true that is, outside-of-box