Helping All Women Lean In
In recent years, much has been said about "Lean In", the 2013 book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that aims to offer "compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential." The book, for the most part, directs its message of combining "professional achievement with personal fulfillment" toward women with professional jobs, higher levels of education and ample economic resources.
Unfortunately, in public discourse during the two years since the book's publication, the "Lean In" mantra has often been applied to all women, regardless of their backgrounds or current situations, as a road map to living a better life. But sadly there is no one-size-fits-all answer to life's problems, and too often well-intentioned people lose sight of the fact that their pathway to success won't necessarily work for everyone. Many women barely have time to care for their families while working two low-paying jobs; spending time to build a group of peers for networking or support often becomes a luxury they can't afford. Worries about salary negotiation or achieving gender-equity in the C-suite aren't even on the agenda.
I say this not to dismiss messages like those presented in "Lean In", but to place them in the proper context. Many Americans, both women and men, struggle simply with daily survival and fulfilling the most basic of needs. We can't confine our thinking to just to those concerns in our immediate line of vision. What those of us sitting in a position of privilege think of as problems pale in comparison to the challenges faced by many of the women served by Volunteers of America every day – homelessness, substandard housing, incarceration, raising children alone with limited financial support. Leaning in means something much different to these women compared to those in other segments of our society.
This Women's History Month (and throughout the year, as well), please keep in mind the needs of women and families who struggle with challenges many of us would find unimaginable. Learn more about Volunteers of America's programs, including those benefiting women and families.