Women -- Stop 'Leaning' and Start Leading

The fourth and final article from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in The New York Times' "Women at Work"series appeared today, and sadly, it is as misguided as the previous three have been, bordering on offensive. Do we really need Sandberg telling men that if they do a load of laundry now and then, they might get lucky? Yes, that is an exact point in the article. To quote:

A man was asked by his wife one night to do a load of laundry. He picked up the basket and asked hopefully, "Is this Lean In laundry?" Choreplay is real.

So what's the message? Women should be expected to have sex with husbands who are willing to "help" with the housework (as opposed to just doing half the housework because it's also their job)? On a more obvious point, I'd bet the COO of Facebook has someone on payroll doing the laundry, which makes it incredibly tone-deaf to write articles about how men should be doing more around the house. Wouldn't it be better to show women how to compete, advance and succeed in the workplace so that they can hire someone to do all the damn housework?

The bigger issue with the entire New York Times series is that rather than focusing on what women can do for ourselves, all they've done is proffer studies, statistics and anecdotes pointing out how bad things are, then asking men to change that. It is so disappointing that Sandberg and Grant keep repeating the same point -- "Hey, guys, help the poor girls out!" They continue to tell men that they should do more office chores, let women speak at work, use the same criteria for evaluating female managers as male ones. It's all about the men and what they need to do to boost up the ladies. Ugh!

The tone of these articles also implies that every successful woman was somehow given a shot by some man. Most successful women I know weren't given anything. They earned it. And when they didn't get it even after earning it, they fought, struggled and seized it. It is so unproductive for women to be that clanging gong repeating that the workplace needs to change to reward us. How about if women change? Why don't we start behaving in ways that will get us rewarded in the workplace?

Whenever I speak or write about equality for women in the workplace, I NEVER address what men need to do differently. Men have no incentive to do anything differently (despite studies that they'd be oh-so-better off, too). This system is working for them, and if women want to compete in male-dominated fields, we need to develop the instincts and attitudes that will get us rewarded in those fields. Women don't have to "behave like men," but we can make the changes needed to be recognized and promoted without asking them for the scraps.

For almost all of human history, men were the ones leaving the cave to engage in hunting and combat, and women stayed back to maintain the habitat. This is because women are more biologically valuable to the survival of a tribe. A tribe with a lot of men and few women cannot reproduce itself quickly enough to survive, but a tribe with a lot of women and few men does just fine, so the strongest tribes made sure the women did not go off and get killed trying to hunt a woolly mammoth or defend the domain.

Since men were the ones going out into the world, men were only encountering other men, so when combat among men evolved into commerce among men, of course they designed a system of commerce that would reward instincts they'd developed over two million years of hunting and combat.

The traits that are most highly rewarded in the workplace -- quick decision-making, aggression, competition -- are the exact traits that made sure a man survived in battle. The traits that are not recognized as contributing value -- cooperation, inclusion, multi-tasking, thorough deliberation before reaching a conclusion -- are the traits that ensured survival of a woman and her offspring back at the homefront. These latter traits have been proven time and again to be more beneficial than aggression, competition and quick decision-making, and yet, they are still not rewarded.

So why won't the systems of commerce evolve to do what's best for the bottom line? When 94.8 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs are men, what possible incentive is there for them to change the way things are done? To put it differently, why would they shift the rewards to something they aren't naturally good at just because it means the company will do better? If the company is doing well enough vis-a-vis all other companies, then no one in the C-Suites has any reason to "fix" that.

Demanding that the metrics be changed for us and our contributions recognized is not necessary once we start contributing the way men do -- confidently, taking ownership, without apology, and without concern for whether everyone else feels included. Yes, making sure everyone feels included is better for the company in the long run, but when you are working your way up through the ranks, that's not your job. Your job is to make sure you are heard, included and rewarded.

Once in the upper ranks, we can do what's best for the company, and if the studies Sandberg and Grant cite are to be believed, then companies that we run will excel and thrive. But for right now, the systems of commerce are not changing, at least not on their own or any time soon. If women want to succeed in the workplace, then we have to adapt to be recognized and rewarded within those systems, according to criteria that have been in place for the last ten millennia, not stamp our feet and demand that men help us get there. After all, no woman has to lean in when she's standing at the head of the table.

Valerie Alexander is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, and the author of How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having "Female Brains"). She can be reached through her website, SpeakHappiness.com.