Lean Out | Marissa Orr

Summary of: Lean Out: The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace
By: Marissa Orr


Lean Out, by Marissa Orr, challenges the idea that women should embrace masculine traits in order to succeed in the workplace. Instead, the book proposes that we should question the corporate environment itself and seek to change it to better accommodate women’s unique strengths. Drawing from various studies and real-life examples, Orr debunks the assertion that acquiring power is the ultimate goal for everyone, highlighting the differences between authority and influence. The book also explores why women might lean back from leadership roles and how the corporate landscape should adapt to achieve gender equality.

Dismantling Corporate Feminism

Author Marissa Orr challenges Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign and argues that women should not strive to emulate masculine traits to succeed in corporate environments that disenfranchise women as a whole. Orr highlights the harmful effects of gender stereotypes that shape the ways girls and boys are brought up, and deems Sandberg’s style of feminism as not offering a sensible solution. According to Orr, successful women who gain advancement by conforming to conventionally masculine behaviors are not creating a better working environment for all women, but rather, they are part of an elite group in a system that perpetuates inequality. Women, instead, should focus on dismantling these systems.

Don’t Lean In, Lean Out: Understanding the Leadership Ambition Gap

The percentage of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies has only increased to 4.8% in 2018 from zero percent in 1978. While structural inequality, corporate misogyny, and the work-life imbalance are frequently cited, few discuss whether many women actually aspire to be CEOs. Only 30% of women in corporate America confess to wanting top-tier jobs, which prompts many workplaces to encourage women to aim higher. But what if instead of telling women to lean in, we asked why they’re leaning out? Over 70% of women have opted-out of seeking leadership positions, and many do so due to their overwhelming share of domestic work. Women spend 2.8 hours a day doing housework versus men’s 1.9 hours, and child-rearing responsibilities add to their already disproportionate workload. Rather than pushing women to do more work, we should focus on lessening their household responsibilities to achieve a better work-life balance and potentially close the leadership ambition gap.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Corporate feminists often attribute the existence of the glass ceiling to women’s lack of confidence, while overlooking the institutional problems of the workplace. Women are then subjected to policed behaviors, such as hesitating and apologizing, which may not necessarily indicate a lack of confidence. Rather than promoting performative masculinity, corporations should embrace confidence in a more authentic sense.

Gender Stereotyping in Corporate Networking

In a corporate context, men are often thought to be better at networking than women. However, research shows that men form relationships when there’s something to gain, while women thrive in collaborative environments. The problem with corporate networking is that it values individual wins over collective gains and expendable relationships over meaningful bonds. Corporate culture doesn’t reward meaningful relationships, and getting ahead often means sacrificing relationships along the way. Perhaps it’s time for men to take networking tips from women.

The Difference Between Academia and the Corporate World

In the United States, women dominate academia but struggle to do the same in corporate America. This is because success is judged differently in these two fields. Academia rewards competence and effort with grades, whereas the workplace promotes employees based on their perceived ability to do the job. Women are taught to be obedient, listen well, and follow instructions, which helps them excel academically but doesn’t always translate to success in the corporate world. To close the gender gap, corporations should start grading performance instead of rewarding the appearance of success. Orchestras in the United States were able to increase women’s representation by focusing their auditions on performance only. Instead of advising women to act more like men and talk up their successes, corporations should recognize their workers’ efforts and skills.

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