Scott Schieman, Markus Schafer and Mitchell McIvor reported last Sunday in the New York Times, that “leaning in, for men, is a cultural expectation. It’s what they are “supposed to do, and they are usually respected and rewarded for it.” It generates “symbolic power” that translates into workplace influence. But women, who “tend to encounter stigma for prioritizing work,” need to work against cultural stereotypes to “lean-in” to create influence and gain the confidence to claim authority.
The article summarizes research about two measures for leadership success: the psychosocial rewards of influence and autonomy. According to the authors, male leaders feel successful when they have one or the other; female leaders need both to feel comfortable. The three sociologists from the University of Toronto conclude that women reap less money and fewer psychological benefits from their leadership at work, and that experience might discourage them from pursuing higher leadership roles in business.
They interpret Sandberg’s “lean-in” idea as being assertive at work, pushing forward despite barriers. Their conclusion is that women have a harder time justifying that action because they face more barriers (like social stigma and fewer material rewards) for the same action that men are rewarded for.
If I’ve ever heard an argument for social change led by influential women, here it is. The authors acknowledge the cultural disparity and the negative experiences of women leaders who face criticism for their ambition. They don’t go as far as Sandberg does; they stop short of calling for social change and conclude that women’s psychosocial experience is more difficult, which may explain why they take fewer leadership roles.
But we can take it that one step further, out of the supposed objectivity of academic study, into the workplace full of conflicts, good and bad intentions, and leadership roles always being negotiated as society changes.