Yes, Lean In (But Go Your Own Way)

“This House Would Lean In”: transcript from Cambridge Union debate

If I had heard those numbers at your age, part of me might have felt a little depressed but part of me would have thought — well, I’ll just try harder. I’ll beat the odds.

You don’t sit in a room like this unless you have hunger. And that hunger usually refuses to take no for an answer.

To me, leaning in is about changing the narrative of what it means to be a woman today.

It means not apologising for having your own dreams, that are bigger than defining yourself in relation to a man. It means removing internal barriers. Historically, women have been encouraged to be nesters. Leaning in encourages us to be hunters, and I’m going to show that this is what will lead to system change.

While the opposition has talked about changing the system in theory, this is not so simple in practice.

Frank Dobbin, a sociology professor at Harvard, has completed extensive research on corporate diversity programs. He has concluded that many “don’t have any effect or backfire”. The usual tools — like diversity training, hiring tests, grievance systems — tend to actually encourage bias and activate rebellion.

‘Leaning in’ is about creating a new way of being a woman in the workplace.

By entering the workspace in larger numbers, we can infiltrate and allow an organic recalibration of the cultural norms that govern leadership spaces today.

The idea of a woman chasing her own dreams is still a relatively recent one.

In the 1950s we had the images of quintessential housewives who stayed at home to raise kids and cook and clean, supporting the man as he went out to achieve his dreams. A woman’s world was narrowed to the one inside the home, and she was meant to find fulfilment in serving her husband and children.

‘Leaning in’ can mean building new systems — challenging the status quo — and building a different world.

I’ve watched girlfriends take salary cuts to start their own charity, move countries to head up divisions, quit secure jobs to focus on creative projects, they are all doing different things — but as long as they are chasing what matters most to them, to me, they are leaning in.

Writing stories (www.adelebarlow.com) and helping companies tell theirs (www.copyand.co)