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Lean In. Nonsense, or Brilliant?a guest post by Kathy Hanson 7-10-13

I have lead two Lean in Collaborative Conversations to women in business in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area; one in April that was so popular I hosted another in June. The women who came and participated in this collaborative conversation came with a wide variety of life and work experiences and were ready to engage on this hot topic! They ranged in age from 29 to two 80 year olds (Go them!) with vastly different work experiences- corporate to entrepreneur to full time homemaker–and wildly contrasting family situations–children/no children/yet to have children/never had children by choice. Because of this dynamic group,we truly got to hear fascinating stories and perspectives, which was my hope and intention for this event. I am a strategic consultant for women business owners and a speaker to women in business. I read the book and wanted to start conversations in our community about the ideas Sheryl Sandberg brings up without the limitations of her "Lean In Circles". It turns out, not everyone shared my warm and fuzzy feelings in the beginning.

I felt it was a fantastic book that addressed many of the issues facing women in the workforce (as well as biz owners) with facts and anecdotes that Sandberg thoughtfully curated. She shares her stories and other women's stories so we can lean inunderstand the issues that face women and appreciate the fact that other women are struggling with similar issues. More importantly, she insists there are ways to help one another overcome gender based stereotypes if we all work together to engage, converse and acknowledge how we can make a change. Despite the marked criticism, I felt that she was cognizant of her wealth and education and what it affords her while thoughtfully acknowledging she does not represent all working women. She frequently acknowledges and gives respect to at home mothers, and at home fathers; and insists we value their work. Most people who do not read the book have no idea she has that viewpoint–which is a linchpin concept in the success of her plan for equality. Many of the women at both discussions came with very negative, stereotypical and preconceived ideas about what the book was about. Of course I dispelled all of the misconceptions and insisted that they all read the book before they jump to uninformed conclusions. I promised every one of them that I would guarantee they will take away excellent business advice, meaningful personal advice, and gain valuable insight into damaging gender stereotypes. I insisted they read the book for their husbands, sons and daughters so they would understand what is still happening in 2013.

Here are the most common reasons women did not want to read the book at my two Lean In events so far:

"I don't need to read another book about a super mom"
"I don't need to read about how to be a leader from an obvious ball buster- that is not my style"
"I don't want her work/ life schedule so therefore I am not going to listen to her advice"
"Sheryl is completely out of touch with reality for those of us who are not elitist, upper middle class, Ivy league educated with tons of money, therefore the book will not help me."
"Isn't this argument over? We have equal rights- we don't need feminism anymore, there isn't anything for women to overcome" (that one took my breath away)

My anecdote is this–Several of the women were shocked by one of the women who returned to my second event after having read the book at my insistence at the first event. Becky came to the second meeting eager to tell the group that the book "changed her life" because she had "no idea" the issues facing women in corporate America and that she had wrongly assumed Sheryl was insensitive to the plight of regular working women. Becky refuted every stereotype that the women threw at her about the book; and her convictions were such that she literally told every detractor that she would pay for the cost of the book if they didn't like it after they read it. I couldn't be more proud of Becky and her willingness to learn and recognize she was the one judging another woman.

I am thrilled and flattered that Becky took my advice against her will and was forever changed by the book.

If women of all stripes, education, work experience and financial means openly share how they overcame gender stereotypes in the workplace, all of our daughters (and sons!) will have a much easier time trying to juggle "having it all" and balancing their work and personal lives.

I say, don't sell this book as a feminist rant. Sell this book as a business advice book to all women who are ever planning to go into, stay in or step away or step back into the business world and to all high school kids (both genders) so we can build a better environment for everyone to really be able to decide what success looks like for them at home and at work.

Please leave your thoughts below:

Kathy Hanson backpocket bizAbout the writer: Kathy Hanson, MBA- Founder of Backpocket Strategy is a business strategist, dynamic speaker and fierce advocate for women in business. Her high energy personality and authentic perspective makes her a sought after panelist, e-seminar contributor and advisor to entrepreneurs all over the country by speaking to the real and difficult issues women and men in business face today. Kathy gives tangible, actionable and relevant advice that encourages people to take responsibility for how they spend their most limited resources- time, energy and money. Clients and audiences alike instantly understand that Kathy has been "there", struggled with "that" and shares her empathetic insight with humor and practical solutions for the problems we all deal with. Connect with Kathy on Linkedin.

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