What’s Changed Since Lean In?

It was a bestseller that begat a catchphrase and, we thought, a movement: Lean In. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book on how to get ahead (or just get equality) in the workplace became an immediate touchstone for a generation of women who had gotten their foot in the door but now didn’t know what to do. How do we negotiate a raise, a promotion, paid family leave? How do we speak up in meetings, at presentations, with our families?

In the four years since Lean In’s publication, much has happened. A woman ran for president of the United States and won the popular vote. We’ve seen a greater awareness of sexism, lack of opportunity and the wage gap in many industries, especially entertainment. Sandberg’s become a prominent voice in the mainstream feminist conversation. Her husband, tragically, suddenly passed away from a cardiac arrhythmia.

Still, for Sandberg and for American women, that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot has actually changed. There’s a man in the oval office, the wage gap isn’t closed, and despite all our marching, our rights are, as ever, under attack. In a recent interview with USA Today, Sandberg was upfront about the statistics that show there hasn’t been marked bookprogress for women in business over the last four years:

“In terms of women in leadership roles, we are not better off. We are stuck at less than 6% of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs and their equivalent in almost every country in the world. There were 19 countries run by women when Lean In was published. Today there are 11. Congressional numbers have inched up a tiny bit. And so, overall, we are not seeing a major increase in female leadership in any industry or in any government in the world, and I think that’s a shame.”

Sandberg said she was still optimistic about the energy in the current feminist movement, citing the “Lean In” groups that have formed to help empower women to advocate for themselves in the workplace. Recently, however, some have questioned whether Sandberg’s “corporate” brand of feminism is appropriate at a time when the majority party’s political agenda is so radically anti-woman.

There’s an argument to be made that our current situation doesn’t mean that the ideas in Lean In didn’t work, but that they hasn’t worked yet, and we still need them. Awareness is the first step toward progress. Sandberg said:

“The reason I wrote Lean In is I think people weren’t actually noticing that we had stopped making progress. I gave a TED talk and said: “It turns out men still run the world.” And the audience gasped as if that was news. I think we made so much progress for decades, starting in the 1960s and the 1970s on, that when really the progress stopped, it ground to a halt on leadership roles, on the pay gap, on the percentage of women who are running for office, we didn’t exactly notice. So I think making sure we are correctly looking at where we are. You know, we are 20% in the Congress. We have never had a woman president. We are 5% of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs. Paying attention to that is the first step and understanding that that’s not OK.”

It’s certainly not.UnderHerBrim_Blog




2 thoughts on “What’s Changed Since Lean In?

  1. I was just thinking about this the other day (While at work). I am often confused by this, and I believe I read that women of color are still only around 2% of that number. So you are correct how far have we really gotten?


    • Take a look at IWPR. “IWPR tracks the gender wage gap over time in a series of fact sheets updated twice per year. According to our research, if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 44 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower: Hispanic women will have to wait until 2248 and Black women will wait until 2124 for equal pay.”


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