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What Does it Mean to “Lean In?”

By Aury Cifuentes

March 29, 2018

Leaning In has been a phrase used for a while in which there is suggested power dynamic to a woman’s role in the firm. Our Women in Business organization at TCNJ did a series of articles for Women’s History Month and there are various implications to what this phrase can mean in a collegiate setting. 

Last semester, Women in Business introduced “Lean In Bingo” as one of our icebreaker activities, but the takeaways were greater than simply networking. The bingo board was available online as a supplement for those familiar with Sheryl Sandberg’s book and her concept of creating mentorship “circles” for women and allies. During the activity, some of the squares were intentionally a bit more difficult but for a good reason. Squares such as “is looking for a leadership opportunity” or “knows how to write code” were among other quirkier ones such as “is a twin.” This simple game had research behind practically every topic on the board, and some of the statistics were truly eye-opening. 

For example, HBR explored how women tend to only apply for jobs in which they meet 100% percent of the qualifications while their male counterparts apply even when they just reach 60%. Thus the leadership square highlighted this disparity and the differences in approaching an application whether for a job, internship, or internal position. Further, the coding square represented the lack of women represented in the tech sector. The other day, Sandberg replied to a Quora question via her official account that she does not know how to code, but she is learning just like many women out there. Although non-profits like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are targeting the youngest demographics, in general, there can be benefits to anyone at any age that is willing to learn something new.

Ultimately, “Leaning in” can mean something different for everyone. To some, it involves redefining and challenging certain internal biases of yourself and others. While the unlearning and re-wiring can be difficult, it is unique for every individual too. We run the risk of not achieving our full potential if we are not regularly evaluating our strengths and weaknesses while remaining proactive even in the face of adversity. All of this is exhausting work and can carry an even more substantial burden on people of color who deal with additional systematic stressors throughout their lives. 

When negativity takes over, it seems like there appears to be little to no change in society, school, or the workplace but in reality, change is happening. That change will not only shape history but also inspire others to keep fighting the good fight regardless of the seemingly glacial pace. This change can be in the context of gender equality, environmental initiatives, or even the next unknown movement on the brink of being a national success; the fact that it is a different focus for everyone diversifies our chances of making progress toward the greater good.

Similar to the gradual preparation in studying for a big exam, while an all-nighter might seem lucrative when the alternatives to studying are much more appealing just because it works for a classmate does not guarantee similar results on your test day. It is important to realize that college is a time to find your learning curve and maximize your time relative to what you believe in, whether or not you agree with the message behind Sandberg’s movement.

Even though “Leaning In” is rarely talked about explicitly during lecture, various organizations on campus are hubs of not only social change but also professional development for those interested in turning the conversation into action. I encourage you to not only find that organization but also find your unique contribution as a member, alum, or naturally curious individual and share it with someone. Lastly, inclusion, whether on a collegiate, corporate, social, or political scale, can be created when everyone can promote equality at any level they can influence.

Aury Cifuentes is a very bubbly senior at The College of New Jersey. As an Economics major with a concentration in Social Justice she is happily working on a capstone project, internship, and thesis this year. When she isn’t studying, Aury is actively participating in the community through the Bonner Service program and working closely with her E-Board as president of Women in Business this year.

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