In an interview in the April Harvard Business Review, Sheryl Sandberg said, "Women face huge institutional barriers. But we also face barriers that exist within ourselves, sometimes as the result of our socialization. For most of my professional life, no one ever talked to me about the ways I held myself back." (Harvard Business Review April 2013 "Now Is Our Time").
I'm glad the business world is now buzzing with commentary about Sandberg's book Lean in. The book has not only triggered some readers to wonder if she is blaming women for not getting into the Board room, not only brought the 'f' word, feminism, into the picture, but has also introduced an honest conversation about the internal barriers that inhibit women from asserting themselves.
Far from blaming women for not showing up in greater leadership positions, Sandberg names both external and internal factors that make it hard for women to assert themselves, to sustain high self-confidence, to maintain resilience in the face of work place adversity, and to keep up the emotional support that it takes to overcome the multiple barriers to success.
If we are to change the way things are, if we are to create different stats for the numbers of women in influential positions, it is essential that we look at the multiple ways in which women do hold themselves back, why that is, and what we can do about it.
Women, more than men, feel and think we need to be uber-experts before we can accept promotions or next levels of responsibility. Women have been taught to think -- and have been treated as if -- ambition is a dirty word. We don't want to out-best our female colleagues for fear of separating ourselves out. We want to be liked and seen as "nice" and always comforting. Therefore, it is hard to assume authority over others when decisions may create an emotional backlash. We have been raised to think that if they do a good job, our good work will be recognized. Not necessarily so. Unless we ask for what we want, we will probably not be offered it, but then we are not good at asking, and too often not good at negotiating. We don't want to be seen as 'bossy' and then don't want to sound entitled just because we are women. When we are recognized and/or promoted our Inner Critic is likely to say "I was just in the right time at the right place,"' or "I'm an imposter who will be found out."
All of these internal barriers to assertion are somewhat independent of and in addition to the gender discrimination that is still real in many of our institutions.
So where do we go from here? Simply declaring that women need to 'Lean In' and do it differently is a good start, but not enough. The challenge is how to do it differently; how to manage the internal critic that sabotages self-confidence; how to coach oneself through fears and discomforts that show up as we move through individual barriers.
In addition to self-determination to act differently, women need to learn skills for Inner Coaching.
There are many approaches to teaching the nitty-gritty how-to's for thinking, acting and ultimately believing in our competencies and entitlements to 'Lean In.'
At The Resilience Group ,our approach is to train women in a model for how to strengthen an Inner Coach that can take on the individual challenges that too often hold women hostage to their insecurities. We lay a foundational understanding of where the Inner Inhibitor comes from. We explore the origins of low self-confidence and negative self-talk. We deconstruct the Inner critic from its origins in the reptilian brain, our family stories and our middle-school peer pressure experiences. We demonstrate how the brain wants to hold onto familiar negative patterns but can also change. We then teach how to constructing an Inner coaching voice that can dismantle personal and collective inhibitions, correct for thought distortions and be a positive support for moving forward.
It is in learning to use an Inner Coaching voice that women can systematically disengage from the habitual and socialized patterns that keep us from leveling the playing field. This takes a clear understanding of all of the above, practice to do it differently, and individual and group coaching to keep it up. We encourage women to find an external coach who can help in this direction -- there are many of us good coaches and trainers out there. Find them.
We are thrilled that Sandberg's book is creating the hoopla it is fomenting. The issues it reaises are important not just for gender equity, but ultimately for our economy's healthy survival and growth.
For more on making the necessary changes see Beth Weinstock The Resilience Group.