Why “Lean-In” is Good Leadership Practice for Women: It’s the Norm for Male Leaders

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.

UnknownBut 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.

We can say, with certainty: Thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, and leaders like you, for weathering difficult situations to make it easier for the women (and men) following after you. Thank you for your courage, your hard work, and your sacrifice. Lead us on into transformation, innovation, and better times for women in the workplace!


  1. […] Why “Lean-In” is Good Leadership Practice for Women: It’s the Norm for Male Leader… (leadershipspirit.wordpress.com) […]


  2. […] Why “Lean-In” is Good Leadership Practice for Women: It’s the Norm for Male Leader… (leadershipspirit.wordpress.com) […]


  3. […] old maxim that networking equals success has been proven over and over again. It’s especially important for women and other under-represented groups to network, because we tend to have less privilege and more to prove. Kathy Caprino, Forbes […]


  4. […] in negotiations on all level of the corporate ladder. (Another way of thinking about this is that conforming to male norms is part of a privilege network in a culture biased towards masculine values in public arenas.) […]


  5. […] CONNECT WITH OTHER TEACHERS! Oh yes, connection is the most important thing! Lean in, collaborate, create a coalition, communicate and share your passion. This fits my model for […]


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