Lean In (Toward the Everlasting Glass)

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I think about all the moments I just didn’t believe in myself. Every test I was sure I was about to fail, every job I wasn’t sure I could do,” she says. “It was after watching so many women quietly lean back, after watching myself quietly lean back and miss opportunities, that I started to see the pattern and started to talk about it.

–Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, has caused a national discussion of women’s success (and failure) in the workplace with her assertion that women often lose ground because they “lean back,” that is, they choose to forego opportunities. In her upcoming book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg details how women can overcome what could, I suppose, be called a pathological unwillingness to power. Women need, per Sandberg, a Nietzschean kick in the butt to get out of their career torpor.

I am, in general, a strong believer in the value and importance of hard work. I know, however, that no amount of hard work and determination can overcome certain types of workplace barriers for some women. The historical and current states of gender, class and racial inequality make leaning in futile in some cases. This is chiefly because Sandberg’s lean in notion relies upon the primacy of ideas such as formal equality and rationality. Lean in ignores the extent to which women have been excluded in shaping the substantive content of equality norms. As to rationality, it has long been clear that many employers will persist in gender or other types of discrimination even where they cause harm to their own interests. In short, employers can and frequently do cut off their own noses to spite their faces.

So, for the Sheryl Sandberg’s of the world I offer this paean to leaning in:

“Lean In Toward the Everlasting Glass” (Sung to the Tune of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”)

If you seek a job advance or want your career enhanced then

Lean in toward the everlasting glass

The glass is oh so thick

Work, wheedle, politick and

Lean in toward the everlasting glass

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