Op-ed pick: What men can learn from “Lean In”

James Allsworth, a consultant and author, read Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial bestseller about women and the workplace. He came away unconvinced.

In case you’ve somehow missed “Lean In” coverage, here’s Sandberg’s thesis:

We (women) hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives–the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, or more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet. Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions.

Sandberg critics have called her elitist, a pom-pom girl, and a Facebook puppet. Allsworth has a different take on Sandberg’s message that women should imitate their male colleagues. He says in the Harvard Business Review that “Lean In” should be a guidebook for what men should not do:

Let me give you an example: the relative difference in confidence between the sexes. In exploring this phenomenon, the book cites a research study of students in a surgery rotation; the study found that when asked to evaluate themselves, the female students gave themselves lower scores than the male students, despite faculty evaluations that later showed the women actually outperformed the men. Passed through the lens of Lean In’s judgment, the ones at fault here are the women, for not being confident enough in themselves. The recommendation that comes later in the chapter: women should “fake it until they make it.”

But is this really good advice?

While Lean In might see the scenario as women lacking the confidence of men, there is a pretty glaring alternative hypothesis: it wasn’t the women who were lacking confidence — but it was the men who were too confident. It’s not that much of a stretch to suggest that the men who were more confident in their ability were the ones less likely to do the hard yards in preparation before the surgery rotation. The end result? They didn’t perform as well.

Read Allsworth’s complete op-ed, It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back and listen to The Daily Circuit Friday Roundtable about “Lean In.”

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  • Kevin

    Thanks for sharing this Stephanie. I love this article. He also makes a great point about ambition. Scaling back is one of the best decisions I ever made, and I feel so lucky to have the chance to.