Why Sheryl Sandberg’s message addresses the wrong question
Sheryl Sandberg’s new book: Lean In
I have not yet read Sheryl Sandberg’s new book (Lean In just became available on Amazon) but I saw her 2010 TED talk and found that although women could learn from some of her recommendations, her approach did not resonate for me.
I am feeling compelled to speak up because I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s New York Times book review and I was again filled with energy about this topic.
I think women are tired of hearing what is wrong with them, tired of being blamed, and tired of hearing what they need to do to succeed in a corporate world that is not set up to support them.
(Or maybe I am the only one who is tired of this?)
Corporate hierarchy and patriarchy
I think the problem is not women leaving the corporate world because they don’t know how to succeed there. I think the problem is that we have built corporations (and political systems and healthcare systems) that are overly patriarchal, dangerously imbalanced, and not built to support the emergence of feminine energy (whether that energy is coming from men or women).
While I am not saying women can’t learn from Ms. Sandberg’s lessons and life experiences, I think we’re asking the wrong question. The questions we ask shape the dialogue. They frame what is possible. And the points Ms. Sandberg raises are keeping the dialogue small and blame-focused.
Having worked in large government organizations, large nonprofit organizations and the corporate environment myself, I see a much larger systemic question:
Where are we and our organizations overly patriarchal (exhibiting an overflow of masculine energy) and what can we do do bring the masculine and the feminine back into balance? (Asked not from a place of blame, but from a place of curiosity, creativity and collaboration).
Re-balance the masculine and feminine
This re-balancing and integration of the masculine and feminine is the very issue I have been working on for years intra-personally (in my own being), in my relationships and with my clients (both male and female). These imbalances are what create dis-ease, disease, dysfunction and corruption. The ancient disciplines of Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda take these imbalances to heart as part of healing.
It’s time for our organizations to come into balance. Rebalancing requires an infusion of healthy feminine energy.
This is not the same thing as saying we need more women. To say that, misses the boat. Entirely.
Men have feminine (or “yin”) energy and women have masculine (or “yang”) energy. In fact, the women (and men) who tend to succeed in the corporate world are able to do so because they have an abundance of masculine energy. They are seen as “like me” by the powers that be. That feels “safe” to leadership and they are promoted into the highest positions.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that masculine energy. We need it. I applaud the women who can function well in these environments, but can you see how adding simply more women doesn’t fundamentally change anything? It’s the energies that we need to attend to.
Here is a quick primer on the different energies:
Masculine energy is an active force. It’s the part of us (as individuals and organizations) that sets goals and strives to achieve them. It reflects our desire to know, tell, advocate and share our expertise with others. It is “push” energy. It is linear. It’s the part of us that drives goal or task achievement, including the need to make money.
Feminine energy is a receptive force. It’s the part of us (as individuals and organizations) that is oriented to stillness, to flow, to an organic way of allowing things to unfold. It reflects our intuitive inner guidance, our curiosity and our desire to ask open, honest questions and be open to the mystery. It is “pull” energy. It is cyclical. It’s the part of us that attunes to process and to building relationships, including the need to belong.
The imbalances in the corporate world have become so extreme that women around the globe are fleeing organizations and starting their own businesses in droves. Women are strong, creative and vibrant and are THRIVING as solopreneurs, freelancers and in small business settings — especially when they bring the best of both their masculine and feminine energy to the table.
I don’t want all women to flee the corporate world. We do need more women there.
But it’s less about the number of women and more about the energy. Do the feminine energies come more naturally to women overall? Sure. But promoting more women with masculine energy does not lead to more balance or greater health in organizations. What creates health is honoring both energies and all styles.
Rather than focus solely on numbers or quotas, or on blaming women for leaving because they don’t lean in and speak up, corporations would do better to ask honest, open, genuinely curious questions, like these:
* How can we co-create environments that allow women and men to thrive?
To be their most creative? To do their best work?
* How can we co-create spaces that are receptive, embodied, and presence-based —
for men and women?
* How can we co-create workplaces that honor all styles and inspire genuine, self-organizing
* How can we get as comfortable with asking questions (not knowing) as we are with sharing
our expertise (knowing)?
* Who needs to be part of the dialogue?
We need balanced organizations that invite and support a diversity of styles. When feminine energy is embraced and supported in organizations, more women will find themselves aspiring to top leadership.
And that’s my rant for the day. 😉
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1. What do you think? What am I missing? What questions would you change or add?
2. What organizations are balancing their masculine and feminine energy? Tell me about them.
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Love and light,
♥ ♥ ♥