#CSR and #Diversity, the missing link in Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg , COO Facebook)

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook), 2013.

I discovered the book Lean In from Sheryl Sandberg here in Beijing and was intrigued by its topic right away, as it promotes women to take on the ambitions they have, to lean in at the board table and not to back away. Women should be and can be more ambitious than they are now, is the message of the book, and at the same time it has a very funny and relaxed approach to how to get there; the first three words in the book are: “I got pregnant”.

The reason I want to discuss this book and the network initiative is that it has a strong relation with my field of interest, Corporate Social Responsibility. Diversity, and the professional development and equal pay of all employees are a key issues for ISO 26 000 and all CSR management structures.

The book provides great insight and tips on how to get and maintain women who want to get to the top of their abilities, without saying all women should get there.  It discusses the likability of ambitious women and how companies can make it easier for men and women to have a better work – life balance, and what the benefits are of having a more diverse management team: it’s not that women are better leaders, the book emphatically continues to say, it’s that the diversity of the management team makes a better management team.

Women should lean in more, but many women choose to step back as soon and even before they want a family.  The book doesn’t condemn these women, but also does not completely tackle all the reasons why women want to lean back:  I think the main reason has to do with the fact that there are many forces in society telling men and women that children are only happy when mummy’s at home and not having a paid job, and that there is a value, a meaning in that effort for society. The book does tell that women have a value and will have a happy family if they combine work and family, although it does not romanticize the combination.

What Lean In lacks, and would have benefited for a stronger sense of a cause of action,  is a stronger focus on the meaning of working itself, the meaningfulness of having a paid job (for women) for society. It now focuses too much on the benefits of having more ambitious female professionals, and does forget one of the main reasons women want to quit a job for a family life; in their jobs they are often told to work for themselves, their ambitions (money, status), and companies forget that women (and many men!) want to work for a meaning: they want to build a better world with the service or product they produce;  be it an accurate accountants report, or a safe and sustainable consumer product: this gives a good reason to go to work and stay working for women, and if their job seems only for career or money reasons, (or is perceived and promoted that way by their company!) they can easily lay back or even quit when something more meaningful (raising a family) comes up.

The way out of this? How to promote diversity and make women more ambitious? All the tips and advice for companies mentioned in Lean In can be taken to heart, but I would like to add one more for managers who want to promote diversity: promote the company’s product and services as meaningful for society, and make it so. More women would want to lean in, for a meaningful reason. 


The website from the book (there is a discussion group in Facebook as well)