A Lean In movement for Indian women has to be about women leaning in to their careers, but also an entire ecosystem coming together to enable women to lean in.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead published in March 2013 has been in the news for the past year for many different reasons. There has been applause and appreciation from many quarters; and at the same time criticism and negative feedback from many other quarters.
Personally, I think it’s the law of averages at work. For any creative piece of work (writing is a creative process), there will be people who will say something ‘Good’ and others who will say something ‘Not So Good’. That’s the way of the world. Especially if the creator (writer in this case) is someone well-known, successful and prosperous and a ‘woman’ – then it is the topic of debate, and it is in the news!
After the launch of the book, Sandberg launched the Lean In community as a global community committed to encouraging and supporting women ‘leaning in’ to their ambitions. Again, a great initiative because it provided a platform for women to discuss, collaborate and speak about many issues, challenges, choices and decisions which plague them on their journey through different career phases and different life choices.
Sandberg has been fortunate to have had an Ivy League education, a remarkable career track record, the opportunity to work in some renowned organizations/institutes, a personal network that includes the ‘Who’s Who?’ and of course, personal wealth which many can only dream of, before she authored this book. And that’s been one of the points which most critics have made – that she had everything easy for her.
Personally, I do appreciate the fact that she took the initiative to write the book. Trust me! For any working mother (no matter who you are and what you do), writing a book along with your doing justice to your professional responsibilities, managing your home/personal commitments and expectations is no easy task – it requires a significant amount of will-power, focus, planning, determination and support. And these are life skills worth emulating from any individual! And you have to give Sandberg credit for that.
After all, how many successful women have authored books on the issue of women reaching their ‘true goals’?
How many successful women have started global communities around the issues of ‘working women’?
How many of these communities are truly ‘active’ and engaging in every day conversations and dialogues with women to help them grow in their careers?
How many of these initiatives are truly making a DIFFERENCE to the lives of women?
‘Lean In’ has definitely been the cause and catalyst for ongoing conversations, discussions, expressions and debates around gender equality, women and ambition, women taking responsibility for your career and choices and not being afraid to face your fears. And these discussions include people from all parts of the world, and in an organizational context, include all levels of leadership and executive management.
Sheryl’s central point is that many women are not ‘Leaning In’ enough to achieve their career ambitions. And her key message is requesting women to ‘Lean In’– Take responsibility for your career and work towards achieving your goals.
The more I read about this subject, the more I am compelled to think about the situation in India.
I agree that that the issues of working mothers across the world would be common to some extent; the eternal quest of “Doing justice and maintaining a balance between personal aspirations, professional responsibilities and family commitments”.
And yet as a working woman, you can’t ignore the influence of your immediate living environment on your choices and decisions. Every country has its own history, evolution, growth story, political scenario, policies, laws, educational framework, economic growth, culture, ‘ways of living’ and employment guidelines which influence the mind-set of the ‘community at large’; and this creates a unique set of country-specific-issues when it comes to the topic of ‘Women and their Careers’.
India is no exception.
In India, looking at the women around me and the choices they make, there are 4 critical factors which drive and determine the career choices that a woman makes:
1. Your upbringing and the mental conditioning you’ve had on “The role of a woman at home and society”: This makes an ocean of difference to the core belief system, self-esteem and self-confidence of a woman. So if you have daughters in your house; educate them, encourage them to learn, dream, grow and make meaningful contributions to society – beyond the four walls!
2. When and who you marry? : For many women, the dream to have a career ends after marriage! And for many women, they start thinking about their careers right after marriage. Yes! Marriage can be a very critical milestone in the life of a woman.
3. Becoming a mother; and the decision to be a Stay-At-Home Mom or a Working Mother : Either by virtue of personal choice or personal circumstances: There’s no right or wrong here. It is a personal choice, and most women don’t comprehend the full impact of this one choice till they hit their twilight years! The point is, what starts of a temporary hiatus from work, extends indefinitely. So at some point in their journey as a mother, it is important for women to re-look at their choices and decisions, and see if they want to/can step back into active careers
4. The ‘Family Responsibility’: The ‘implicit’ role a women is expected to play in taking care of aged/elderly/ill people in the family and how she has to put everything else “on hold” – to nurture and nurse people to good health. All of the above influence the career choice that a woman makes. While some things are not in your control, some things are driven purely by your circumstances; and some things are not even your choices.
But my question to Indian women is: “When you do have a choice, do you LEAN IN enough?”
And back to my original question “Do we need a Lean In Movement in India?”
I think YES!
• We need women to ‘Lean In’ to their careers
• We need men to enable women to ‘Lean In’
• We need children to help their mothers ‘Lean In’
• We need educators to enable women to ‘Lean In’
• We need policies to enable women to ‘Lean In’
• We need law makers to make it easy for women to ‘Lean In’
• We need mentors to guide women to ‘Lean In’
• We need people in power to help women to ‘Lean In’
• We need employers to make it easy for women to “Lean In”
• We need families and friend to condition / support women to ‘Lean In’
• We need successful women leaders to speak up / share to inspire women to ‘Lean In’
We need a whole ecosystem in India to enable women to ‘Lean In’, So YES! We do need a ‘Lean In’ Movement in India.
I’m doing my bit and best every single day to ‘Lean In’… What about you? Share your story here, on what/who has helped you ‘Lean In’!
Pic of Sheryl Sandberg credit the World Economic Forum (Used under a CC license)