Male Perspective of Leaning In Adds New Dimension to Sandberg's Book

Sheryl Sandberg has described her book "Lean In" as a feminist manifesto. Yet, men can also stand to benefit from the book's many discussions on gender discrimination.

The book has sparked controversies, from accusations of Sandberg being entitled to spout lectures from her privileged pedestal to the comparing and contrasting between Sandberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

Nonetheless, one particularly crucial argument that has not been spotlighted as openly and passionately is that women are not the only ones who stand to benefit greatly from reading and, ultimately, leaning in. 

John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, was one of the first and few men to publicly vouch for the book and its subject matter. In an email sent to his company, he encouraged employees to read the book, after having been so moved to action himself.

"While I have always considered myself sensitive to and effective on gender issues in the workplace, my eyes were opened in new ways and I feel a renewed sense of urgency to make the progress we haven't made in the last decade," Chambers wrote. "After reading Lean In and listening to Sheryl, I realize that, while I believe I am relatively enlightened, I have not consistently walked the talk."

As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge one's privilege and social status, this same "enlightenment" that Chambers referred to is one of the very first steps towards eradicating gender stereotypes and gender discrimination in one's work place. Because men occupy a predominant space in a majority of the executive positions in offices, eradication will only occur once both men and women realize that it takes to tango over such issues.

"It’s simply not enough to expect women to carry the heavy load, because focusing on only one side of the ledger won’t bring about the type of systemic change in workplace gender roles that is needed.Men need to recognize their own responsibility," wrote columnist and author Michael Cohen in a related piece for The Guardian. 

Cohen pointed to how reading "Lean In" allowed him to pinpoint a particular instance of standardized assignments of gender roles at a dinner party. Similar to Chambers, he referred to having always had an awareness of the roles that gender played in society, but admitted that the privileges bestowed upon men often resulted in his taking gender stereotypes of other injurious gendered acts towards women for granted. This incomprehension bothered Cohen and prompted him to ask his readers the following:

"In the year 2013, when women are as likely as men to graduate from college and enter the workforce, don’t men have a responsibility to understand the challenges facing women in the workplace?"

Another interesting moment in "Lean In," which Cohen highlights in his article, is Sandberg's addressing a compelling vice-versa of sorts: men leaning back. He  pointed to the following section of Sandberg's book:

"If we make it too easy for women to drop out of the career marathon, we also make it too hard for men. Just as women feel that they bear the primary responsibility of supporting their families financially. Their self-worth is tied mainly to their professional success, and they frequently believe that they have no choice but to finish that marathon."

This important argument illuminates the fact that despite being levels above the glass ceiling, men still have much more to learn from women despite of the looming gender gap in the leadership positions of many influential industries. In a LinkedIn post written by Don Pepper, a founding partner of a global management consulting firm, he also advises men to lean back by adopting "post-macho" principles, such as embracing employee collaborations versus hierarchies, abandoning rigid rules and structures, and embracing empathy. 

"While Sheryl Sandberg says a female executive must Lean In to be able to participate on a more equal footing with her male counterparts, it’s also important for all managers – male and female alike – to “lean back” a little, in order to appreciate the virtues of non-macho, relationship-based management," wrote Pepper. 

The varying, yet thoughtful arguments and assessments of the above mentioned writers illustrates the need for both men and women to add to the "Lean In" discourse. Perhaps the word "feminism" being tightly bound to discussions about the book have dissuaded men from believing topics like women in the workplace pertain to themselves.

However, to dump "feminism" from this discourse would be a waste. Because just as leaning in and creating an overall successful and enriching workplace requires the efforts of all genders, so does sustaining an effective feminist movement. 

Image: Victor1558/Flickr