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Lean Out

The Truth about Women, Power, and the Workplace

By Marissa Orr
15-minute read
Audio available
Lean Out by Marissa Orr

Lean Out (2019) is an impassioned critique of corporate feminism. Rather than “lean in” to the patriarchal structures and misogynistic systems of the corporate world, it suggests that women take a step back and stop trying to act like men in order to get ahead.

  • Working women who are sick and tired of being told to “man up”;
  • Firms wondering why their top-tier employees all have a Y chromosome; and
  • Any employee who wants to do their bit for diversity.

 

Marissa Orr has extensive firsthand experience of misguided corporate attempts to close the gender gap – she worked at Google and Facebook for 15 years, all while she was a single mother of three. Here, the tech industry veteran dissects where corporate feminism is failing women and pinpoints what corporations should really be doing to promote equality in the workplace.

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Lean Out

The Truth about Women, Power, and the Workplace

By Marissa Orr
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Lean Out by Marissa Orr
Synopsis

Lean Out (2019) is an impassioned critique of corporate feminism. Rather than “lean in” to the patriarchal structures and misogynistic systems of the corporate world, it suggests that women take a step back and stop trying to act like men in order to get ahead.

Key idea 1 of 9

Masculine assertiveness isn’t something to celebrate or emulate.

In 2014, Sheryl Sandberg launched the “Ban Bossy” campaign through her Lean In foundation. Sandberg shared that she’d been called “bossy” many times over the course of her career. Many of her female peers – also successful, high-powered executives – had been called “bossy” too. 

According to Sandberg, men are celebrated when they act assertively. Women, on the other hand, are punished for exhibiting the very same trait that men are rewarded for.

But, as author Marissa Orr argues, Sandberg’s strategy doesn’t quite stack up.

The key message in this blink is: Masculine assertiveness isn’t something to celebrate or emulate.

There’s a valid point underlying Sandberg’s campaign to ban bossy. There are different sets of cultural expectations that shape the way girls and boys are brought up. And these go on to shape the ways men and women behave in the workplace. 

Girls are celebrated when they display so-called “feminine” qualities, like empathy, kindness, and patience. They’re celebrated for being good listeners and for sharing. By contrast, when they fail to embody these qualities, they’re often reprimanded and called “bossy” or “unladylike.” 

Boys, on the other hand, are celebrated for displaying so-called “masculine” qualities, like leadership, decisiveness, and even aggression. When they fail to embody these qualities, boys are punished too. They’re labeled as “weak,” “girly,” or a “sissy.”

There’s no doubt these gender stereotypes create huge problems for both women and men.

But while Sandberg’s style of feminism identifies the stereotypes as a problem, it doesn’t offer a sensible solution. According to Sandberg, women need to get over their fear of being seen as “bossy” and adopt masculine qualities in order to get ahead.

So, girls who don’t conform to feminine stereotypes get punished by society. Now, women who don’t strive to emulate masculine stereotypes are punished by corporate feminism, too.

According to Orr, when women advance their careers by leaning in to conventionally masculine behaviors, they’re not agents of change. They’re not creating a better working environment for all women. No. They are part of an elite group in a corporate system that disenfranchises women as a whole. 

Women shouldn’t be asking how they can succeed within these corporate systems. They should be asking how they can dismantle them.

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