March 18 th


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. 😉  

Take action now.  Click “like” if you like this post. Share it. Tweet it. Plus One it. And leave a comment below

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.  

3.  If you like what I write about and want to stay connected to my thinking and/or my offerings, please join my mailing list.   

Love and light,

♥ ♥ ♥




  1. Amber says:

    I can’t wait to read this in full, but just had a minute now. I agree with your premise. It isn’t about getting MORE women it is about a fundamental shift in the energy and the way we do business and engage with one another within organizations.

    • Amber, thanks so much for popping in. Yes, it’s very much about the way we do business and about the way we engage with one another within organizations. There is rich opportunity for new ways of being to emerge!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Hi Laurie – this is a topic that has been mulling around in my head for quite some time.
    I am actually less interested in how we, in our current culture, define masculine and feminine and more interested in how we take the cultural experiences of gender (all that learned behavior) and craft that integration you are talking about. I question the need to label and define energy (masculine or feminine) as opposed to really looking at how I, as an example, operate in this world due to my cultural lens of being a woman.
    An interesting way I am also thinking about this subject is simply in terms of diversity. Privilege. Power. Gender has been one of the most visible cues that ‘difference’ is in the room. I don’t think homeostatis has ever been a fan of being provoked…
    Just food for thought – and I totally agree: integration is key.

    • Hi Jennifer, very well said. Yes, integration is key. To me, this is about exploring wholeness and finding balance individually and within organizations. I have been struggling with the language myself — masculine and feminine energies is one way to describe a set of qualities and behaviors.

      Your framing of this as being about “how we take cultural experiences of gender and craft the integration” is fascinating. And I appreciate your bringing in issues of diversity, privilege and power.

      I am not sure what language is best or most effective. I know that my interest is moving beyond conceptual discussions to embodying new and more integrated ways of being. And I will be curious to see what language will get us there in a way that leads us away from blame and shame and brings us to common ground while respecting and honoring differences.

      I am as interested in *how* we have this discussion as I am in the results that could be gained. To me real integration is the embodiment of both.

      Thanks so much for weighing in here. If you feel moved, drop me a line. I would like to talk further about your ideas.

      • Jennifer says:

        Interestingly enough, I have actually spent the weekend reading Sandberg’s book and have to say that a lot of what she writes about is the culture in which women find themselves, professionally and personally, at this current moment in American history. I think she is very insightful. How do we build awareness of our own gender blind spots? How do we push against a culture that doesn’t reward women the same as men? How do we contribute to the current dynamics and how do we, as women and men, reach for the change that creates equity in the workplace? This is what she writes about. I’d recommend this book to any woman as a diving board into a rich and important conversation.

        • Hi Jennifer, that’s great to hear and that’s a high recommendation. I just picked it up on kindle and will be traveling later this week so look forward to diving into the book and into the conversation further. I agree that this is a rich and important conversation. Thanks for following up. 🙂

  3. sarah says:

    you had me at :::: “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.” ::::::

    I see a slow expansion occurring, allowing for these kinds of conversations to be had. Case in point. I have not read this book BUT I hear your points and I appreciate the non-judgement inquiry that our WORLD so desperately needs.

    Certainly the structures themselves need revamping. Here is to women bringing forth the change!!!

    • Yes indeed Sarah. It’s a time that has come. And it’s an inspiring vision: to see women rising in ways that allow them to embody and assert their leadership in it’s fullest capacity while not making anyone wrong. That last part is key — no shaming of others. Shame is what perpetuates the cycles that keep people down. “Here’s to women bringing forth the change!!!” I will toast to that!

  4. Rock on, Laurie Tenenbaum Rosenfeld! You are SPOT on! Thank you for stepping up and countering this other absurd idea that women need to step up their game in the corporate scene to be successful in it! The predominance of our corporations are woefully f*cked! with so little regard for the individual that thankfully people ARE now leaving in droves! And like you say, not just women. It IS about the patriarchal systems are seriously broken… and healthy masculine AND feminine will have no more to do with it. We have been unleashed to find our own way and eventually create our own organizations… and we are doing that. There are certain organizations wising up and making changes, but they are going to have to offer a lot more to woo people back.

    Great article. Beautiful writing. And no, you are not the only one who sees this! It is HUGE in the organizational development world. I have two very close loves who are creating their own revolution around this issue. We are indeed in a revolution on so many fronts!

    Oh… and THIS area? corporate AND organizational development? = Capricorn… and the radical breakdown and changes we are seeing and will continue to see over these years? Pluto in Capricorn.

    Pluto ROCKS!

    • Kathleen, thanks for your passion and support. I am glad I am not the only one who is tired of men and women blaming women. Mostly, I am tired of blame-based conversations. They don’t get us where we need to go. We need new conversations that invite questions, support play and improvisation, and promote healthy integration.

      And yes, the OD world is the one I most recently came from. I am glad you know of others who are doing this work. It is not for the faint of heart and there is a lot of work to be done. Transforming organizations from the inside out is no less arduous than transforming ourselves. And you and I both know what deep work that is!

      Much love and thank you for your presence here and in my life.

  5. Zoe says:

    I so whole heartedly agree hunni! The problem most definitely isn’t that women need to ‘learn’ how to function and get ahead in the corporate world at all – it’s that the corporate structure and old world business approach is fundamentally flawed in being capable of existing as an entity that supports living as a whole and balanced human being.

    • Hi Zoe, thank you for reading, for your offline input and for joining me here.

      I love this line: “it’s that the corporate structure and old world business approach is fundamentally flawed in being capable of existing as an entity that supports living as a whole and balanced human being.” You have nailed it so succinctly. That’s it.

      Our organizations need to be reconstructed so that they support our living as whole and balanced human beings. When we are living from a place of wholeness, our structures will reflect that and our larger world will reflect that too. That’s a world I want to co-create. And that’s a world in which we can thrive! 🙂