Through a combination of entertaining anecdotes, solid data and practical advice, Lean In (2013) examines the prevalence of and reasons for gender inequality both at home and at work. It encourages women to lean into their careers by seizing opportunities and aspiring to leadership positions, as well calling on both men and women to acknowledge and remedy the current gender inequalities.
Nowhere is gender inequality more evident than in leadership positions: Just 20% of parliament seats globally are held by women, and only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
These figures are striking because in the realm of academic achievement, women, on average, fare better than men, earning 57% of all undergraduate degrees and 60% of master’s degrees in the U.S. Yet, somehow this flood of competent women entering the workforce becomes a trickle by the time they reach the leadership level.
Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, but one of the most important is the leadership ambition gap. Studies show that men are more ambitious and more likely to want to become executives than women. Why?
Gender stereotypes are one driver: Women are not expected to be ambitious and career-oriented, and those who violate these expectations can be labeled as “bossy” or worse. These stereotypes, enforced since childhood, can pressure women to temper their career goals.
Similarly, whereas most men automatically assume they can have both fulfilling personal lives and successful careers, women are constantly told by society and the media that eventually, they will have to make compromises between career and family. This often results in women being less committed to their careers and leaving the workforce to care for their children. Surveys of Yale and Harvard Business School alumni found that some 20 years after graduating, only half the women were employed full-time compared to 90% of the men. With such a mass exodus of highly-educated women from the workforce, it is little wonder that a leadership gap exists.
Women are still conspicuously absent from leadership positions, partially due to the leadership ambition gap.