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Lean In, Lean On, Lean Out


The Ups, Downs and Sideways of Working Motherhood

Lean In, Lean On, Lean Out

Alex Steinman

I was recently interviewed by local news station, KARE 11, to talk about being a young professional transitioning into motherhood (and by transitioning, I mean running naked into a boiling pot of self-doubt stew). Reporter and resident lady boss, Jana Shortal, asked me about leaning in, and I had a visceral reaction. Here's why: I love Sheryl Sandberg. I think she's smart enough to admit her privileges in life (she has a f***ing daycare in her office), but also honest enough to admit being a mom is difficult for anyone. While I appreciate her as a female leader championing other working women, I do take issue with some of the Lean In crap.

When Lean In came out in 2013, it was like someone had gifted us all a handbook to get ahead. I studied it until I leaned in so hard, I was practically on the table. About the same time that book arrived, more tools, tips and tricks became a part of the cultural conversation about how to make it as a woman in business. Make yourself bigger, make yourself louder, speak in the first 5 minutes of a meeting, talk more about yourself, etc. All things that require you to alter your behavior, so male leadership will start to notice you.

At first, I took it as a challenge. You bet your ass I can manspread with the best of them. But after a while, it just didn't feel like me anymore. I started to realize it's a problem with the system, not a problem with the way women do business.

You can't tell me that women over the last 100 years haven't been leaning in and up to break glass ceilings and shatter norms. Maybe instead of us adapting to male developed expectations, we should be educating our leaders to change the system. By recognizing and understanding our unconscious and conscious biases, perhaps women could be recognized for both their accomplishments AND their potential like male counterparts.

Having it all means making choices and sacrifices, and I could argue that women often find those decisions incredibly difficult. Having it all in one area of my life indicates the other areas are failing. For a type A, that feeling is enough to take me out. I think that's why they call it 'work/life balance,' though I just call it all 'messy.'

If we had systems in place to lean on each other for support when we need to be 100% elsewhere, that would make life a hell of a lot easier. When I'm out of town, I lean on my husband. When I'm having a shitty week, I lean on my work wives (shout out to Mack and Simle). My lady boss squad of Mpls MadWomen board members work as a tribe to lean on each other because life.

With one energetic toddler on the outside and one energy-sucking fetus on the inside, I feel the travel, stress and late nights more than ever. Do you ever have that feeling you might lose a limb? Like you'll be walking down the street about to take a bite of a delicious raised chocolate sprinkle donut, and your arm will just fall off. That's how I feel sometimes. And when you're a mom, and a wife, and an employee, and a board member, and a feminist, that's not uncommon. Sometimes you just need to lean the f*** out. And for all the lady bosses out there, that should be OK too.

A pregnancy, a vacation or a child should not hold up an entire career. These things should enhance one because diversity in the workplace is more than just sensitivity training and women's conferences. It's about organizations leaning in to changing norms rooted in centuries of male-led structures, to recognize more diverse people already at the table.