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How to Accomplish More than Leaning In

Updated on October 2, 2016
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, engineer, mother of 2, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


The “Lean In” movement assumes women need to push their way into a supposedly male dominated world. This is in addition to assuming the women are holding themselves back by playing nice to fit social roles. The first view and the lean in movement’s suggestions to fix these problems fall short, while the second portion is surprisingly true but lacks actionable advice.

If you want to stand out, don't minimize praise and recognition when it is given.
If you want to stand out, don't minimize praise and recognition when it is given. | Source

Countering the Silent, Compliant and Self-Defeating Behaviors Many Women Use

  • Don’t apologize for disagreeing. Debate isn’t hate, and you shouldn’t have to say you are sorry for expressing your views as long as you are respectful about it.
  • Do not minimize the complements others give you, and don’t sell yourself short when being recognized for your accomplishments.
  • Don’t mistake criticism for a personal attack, and thus refrain from every giving necessary feedback. Someone can criticize the results of a particular task without attacking the person.
  • If you don't have the time, don't feel guilty for saying no. And it is not necessary to justify it or explain it, simply state such and move on.
  • Use action verbs when describing events instead of describing everything passively. Your sales pitch, presentation and thirty second introduction should be as active as your resume.
  • Give constructive criticism when it is needed without agonizing over hurting that person’s feelings. Keep it short and to the point, because sharing how you feel about how they might feel makes the exchange more painful for everyone.
  • Don’t gossip. While you can gain modest mollification by sharing your gripes with girlfriends, the solution is to only discuss the problem with people who can fix it or tell you who can connect you with a solution.
  • Give recommendations based on evidence and data, and minimize the mention of your own feelings when you give recommendations or suggested courses of action. Say “I think” not “I feel”, “We should” instead of “I get the impressions that we should”.
  • Putting too much emotional investment into the presentation can cause others to be reluctant to give constructive criticism when your plan has flaws, and you’ll be told things are under consideration when the real answer is no.
  • While everyone wants to be given credit when credit is due, don’t undermine yourself by making everything a team accomplishment when it is your own doing.
  • You are more likely to get that promotion or salary grade increase if you change jobs first, breaking out of your comfort zone, and stretching yourself than leaning in and demanding it without proving first you can do more.
  • Recognize that you don’t have to have consensus to do the right thing or handle an immediate problem. And stop seeking the full support of that last hold out instead of going forward with a good plan.
  • Negotiate your salary, but balance that with benefits from paid time off to flexible work schedules. Many women make less than men overall only because they don’t travel, don’t work much overtime, don’t take the high risk / reward assignments or off-ramped or went part time after having kids.
  • While women have a desire for everyone to be equal, recognize those who achieve more than others, from setting a sale’s record to hitting new quality goals to personal achievements.
  • Don’t condemn those who are not as assertive as you. To paraphrase Christy Wright, when the stay at home mom criticizes the working mom and the working mom makes fun of the stay at home mom, no women win, but everyone is unhappy. Attacking coworkers who don’t agree with your goals, decisions or vision won’t help you or them. Tolerance for their career and personal choices, though, will go a long way to building support.

Socializing and networking in segregated events and groups feels comfortable, but it kills the broader networks and interactions that lead to innovation and advancement.
Socializing and networking in segregated events and groups feels comfortable, but it kills the broader networks and interactions that lead to innovation and advancement. | Source

Coping with Men in the Workplace

  • Do not self-segregate by attending women’s only events and then complain that you can’t break into the men’s social circles. Build relationships with the men.
  • Do not assume that as a female in your field that you must be mentored by another woman. And never accept someone in an unrelated career path or field as a mentor simply because they are the same woman.
  • Don’t mistake confidence for arrogance. You can be certain of yourself without treating others like dirt. There is a middle ground between the mean boss/mean girl and pushover/mouse.
  • Don’t walk in with the assumption that all men are the enemy, because this will hinder any efforts to work with them.
  • Don’t assume that all women are going to rally to your side in a disagreement or debate. And having many women side with you because you are a woman doesn’t mean your position is more moral or even correct. In fact, some women get insulted if you’re seen as asserting yourself more than the group’s norm.
  • Don’t bash the guys for going out to a bar to socialize when you have to pick up the kids. Instead, suggest a lunch meeting at a sports bar where everyone can attend.


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