In 2013, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” a manifesto directing women to take charge of their careers.
Countless criticisms followed, with powerful women pushing back against the notion that they simply needed to try harder, rather than a necessary shift in the flawed standards of corporate culture. Or as Meghan Phillips, CEO and founder of Sacramento-based marketing firm Honey, says: “I don’t know if I could lean anymore without falling flat on my face in a pile of mud.”
Sandberg told women to demand a seat at the table, make their voices heard, delegate work and believe they deserve success. Women, she suggests, can grab opportunities as they come their way with careful attention to the paradigm shifts needed to balance work and family.
Her message seemed to be that if women would just lean in, they could accomplish everything and have it all — you know, things like an illustrious career, ideal family life, marriage, spirituality, and all with the perfect pilates body.
But Sandberg was forced to re-examine her own message four years after publishing the cultural zeitgeist when her husband died unexpectedly, and she found herself the single working mother of two children. On the role of supportive partnerships, she told Time in 2017, “I got that wrong.”
Phillips says support is essential to an ability to “lean in”— but women shouldn’t have to be married to get it. “If you have a partner, that’s incredible. But [support] comes from friends, it comes from a village of people to be supportive of a medley of things.”
As a business owner, Phillips tries to support her staff by providing flexibility and maintaining what she describes as “familial core values,” meaning leadership with an empathetic attitude toward employees — and their need to balance life’s many demands.
“We’re extremely flexible with work hours,” she says. “I believe if you need to get out of the office and take your laptop somewhere, you can do it. Everybody [is on a] ‘get your work done’ basis.” One of Phillips’ employees, currently pregnant, will have the option of bringing her infant to the office once she returns.
Having this flexibility helps employees, particularly women, to lean in. Phillips, herself a working mom, knows how empowering that level of flexibility can be, whether you’re a parent or not.
“I hate that women have to question if they have it all, because no one does,” Phillips says. “It’s really about being fulfilled in what you do.”
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