Lean Out: the Anti-Lean In

Lean Out: the Anti-Lean In

By now, most of us are familiar with the term ‘lean in.’ But since the term was coined in 2015, the world has changed immensely. Lean in happened before #Metoo and #Timesup. Waaay before Melinda Gates’ big donation to help women level the playing field in the workplace. Do we still need to lean in? Or is there a better way to create headway in male-dominated industries? The experts who are now asking you to ‘lean out’ would say otherwise. 

What Does Lean In Mean?

‘Lean In’ was a term coined by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book of the same name. Essentially, Sandberg found that when it came to gender inequality in the workplace, women were (also) to blame.

She argued that because women are treated differently, we act differently. When men treat us like a certain way, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensures we won’t rise to the top.

Some examples of leaning in include:

  • Asking for more responsibility
  • Applying for promotions — especially when you don’t possess 100 percent of qualifications
  • Telling your superiors what you need to do your job
Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

Why Shouldn’t I Lean In?

Sandberg’s book has sold over 1 million copies. Obviously, it was well-received overall. 

Yet there are some critics of “Lean In” — including former first lady Michelle Obama.

Many women disagree with Sandberg’s can-do attitude, instead claiming that the workplace (especially old boys’ clubs) are rigged to exclude women. Not only will these companies never consider pumping rooms or in-office childcare — but many believe these types of perks will only drive a larger wedge between the sexes.

What Does Lean Out Mean?

Many feel the answer to these old boys’ clubs is simply to lean out. Leaning out is refusing to play the game altogether. This technique recommends women walk away from these establishments and male-dominated workforces to start new, women-inclusive organizations.

This term was coined by former Facebook employee Marissa Orr in her titular book, “Lean Out.” 

Orr argues that leaning in doesn’t solve the problem — it simply gives women an inch when we actually need a mile.

Instead of playing the game in rigged industries, we should walk out and start our own women-focused companies. 

“The future of women at work will come from the trend of female entrepreneurs, as they leave the corporate world in larger numbers and create their own enterprises,” said Orr in an interview with Forbes. “Women need to define success on their own terms.”

Lean Out, Marissa Orr

When You Shouldn’t Lean Out

Before walking out on your job, you might want to ask yourself a few questions. First, you’ll want to find out if your problems are with the patriarchy (or simply your job itself).

Most of the women involved in the Lean Out Movement work in male-dominated industries, such as tech, science and finance (though you could make the argument that companies in the arts, such as Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine are lean-out material too).

Before pulling a Jerry Macguire, take a few weeks to do your research.

  • Are the problems at your workplace part of a systemic issue?
  • Is your corporation creating meaningful opportunities for women at junior, mid and senior levels?
  • Do you have enough resources to lean out right now? Or do you need to take a beat and take a moment to make a plan?

And if you do decide that now is not the time to walk away from your job? It doesn’t mean you can’t lean out in small ways in your current position. 

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