Why working women should ditch ‘leaning in’ and ‘lean together’ instead

Schedule posts LinkedIn office company workers help
  • Sarah Lacy is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Chairman Mom, an abuse-free, nonjudgmental platform for working women.
  • For more than 20 years, Lacy had a lucrative career as an entrepreneur raising venture capital in Silicon Valley. 
  • After the 2016 presidential election and height of the #MeToo movement, she decided to devote her life to a new mission of connecting and supporting other women. 
  • Lacy argues women do not professionally help other women like men do, largely due to a "scarcity mentality," and an internalized bias against other women who haven't yet "made it."
  • She says without an engaged support network and systemized change, women will struggle to see the gains they all collectively want.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

For the first 20 years of my career, I was mostly in male-dominated spaces. I've written for publications like Businessweek and TechCrunch. Even my own investigative journalism startup, Pando, had an 85% male audience. 

sarah lacy headshot sm
Sarah Lacy

I've attended decades of conferences where I'm one of a handful of female attendees, spoken at one where my spouse got monogrammed soaps as a thank you gift, because the assumption was only women would be speakers' spouses. And most of the people who have given me breaks in this industry or millions in venture capital have been men. 

It's not that life in the patriarchy didn't serve me. I had a great career, was one of the few women to successfully raise venture capital, and even did well enough to buy a house in San Francisco. I was a lucky exception in many ways, working hard and taking risks, but also coasting on privilege and a network I'd spent 20 years building. I was the exception that made other men feel like they couldn't possibly be sexist, because: Look! I was a woman and they supported me! 

But a few years ago, just after Donald Trump was elected and in the middle of the #metoo movement, I decided to make a radical change that could have cost me everything. I decided to largely rebuild my life around a new mission: Connecting and lifting up women. I gave up a lucrative perch in a man's world, to help build up a woman's world. 

I had a pretty radical transformation: From someone who was in it for me, to someone who was going to be in it for other women. 

Read more: Less than 10% of decision makers in venture capital are women. Here's a managing partner's advice for shattering the glass ceiling.

wrote a book about this transformation and started having women to my home for dinner every month to connect them together. And when that wasn't enough, I raised capital to start Chairman Mom, a company that aims to be the opposite of the rest of the Internet for women. A place where there is only support, no shame and no judgement of any kind. 

I absolutely love my job. It's the best job I've ever had, easily. And we are growing in 2020. But more rewarding still: The relationships I've formed with women have been so much richer and deeper than the relationships I had with men in the first half of my career. (Reminder: My one time "pals" like Travis Kalanick and Shervin Pishevar decided to go after my family once I became an inconvenience for them... It has been painful to realize how thin so many of those relationships were.)

But as much as I have adored spending almost all my time in the power of thousands of amazing and accomplished women, one thing is still a constant source of pain, of frustration, of bafflement: 

Writ large, women do not professionally help other women like men do. 

I know this because for 20 years I was essentially an honorary dude let into the club. I have seen it from both sides. 

Men share deals.

Men invest in themselves, because they have outsized belief it will pay off.

Men promote what they are working on without apologizing or getting shamed. And other men promote it too.

Men trade secrets about what is working. 

Men fund each other, sometimes simply because they like each other. They don't need to see years of traction first. They don't have to twist themselves in knots of justification for funding someone of the same gender. 

Men "he's a good dude" each other all the way to the bank. 

And you know what? You won't hear me say this everyday, but good for men! This is why men in a place like Silicon Valley can go from a nobody with no work experience and no pedigree to a billionaire in a few years' time. (And make even more money for so many other men along the way.) 

Here's the difference: Men don't operate from a place of scarcity

Read more: Read the spreadsheet women in tech are sending each other to find out how much they're making compared to their male coworkers

And after years of examining this problem as a journalist and a frustrated woman, I've come to believe that it isn't because we don't want to help each other. It's because we operate from a scarcity mentality. A scarcity mentality that may be the ultimate gaslighting because it isn't even based on reality.

We don't see the power we have. 

We don't believe we can make enough of a difference. 

Maybe we're mad that we had to work so hard to get what we have now, and so we hold our power, knowledge, contacts, and money jealously. 

We are all still worried it might get taken away from us. 

We all know we've worked harder than men to get where we are. But somehow there's still a feeling that success is something that's been bestowed on us that might get taken away if we don't keep playing the game that mostly still serves men. 

Maybe some women keep other women out, because it makes them feel special. I made it, but not everyone can… A bit like Margaret Thatcher in the Crown saying she didn't name women to her cabinet, because they aren't suited to higher office. 

Being the exception feels good. I know, I used to be it. But trust me when I say, helping other women and changing the system feels better. 

There is enough to go around. Your power you earned? You've actually earned it. It belongs to you. No one can take it away. Do you know how many men have tried to revoke my power? It's still here. Giving some away to others does not diminish it. 

You can afford to spend your money and your reputational capital. You have the power to make another woman's lives better. To open doors for her. To introduce her to someone who can change her life. To buy products from female founders. (And yes, all of this goes quadruple for women of color, who have it so much worse than white women. Let's be honest: White women are largely the problem here, because those are largely the ones that "lean in" works for. That's the group that voted in greater numbers for Donald Trump. Reminder: Affirmative action has benefitted white women more than any racial group.)

Imagine for a moment, a world where women supported women the way men support other men. 

The increase in women writing venture capital checks would have meant that more — not fewer — female founders are getting funded. 

Every female-owned company would thrive, because women — who control the vast majority of household spending — would vote with their dollars to support other women. 

Female journalists would ferret out and champion more women, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, not tear them down for their reproductive or fashion choices. 

Politicians would cater to women's issues, because women are the largest chunk of the population and control most of the assets in this country. 

Women would hire other women; women would promote other women. 

Read more: Meet the individuals making the 'financial independence, retire early,' or FIRE, movement more inclusive by challenging norms around saving, debt, and living frugally

What would social media look like? After all, women represent the biggest audience on platforms like Facebook. So why are women treated disproportionately worse than men on these platforms? A survey done by Survey Monkey and Chairman Mom three years ago showed that nearly 90% of women had experienced or witnessed "mom shaming" on social media. Maternity bias is a real thing that destroys careers and confidence. Why are other women — who know how it feels — so complicit in it?

Don't tell me we don't have enough. Unlike other underprivileged groups, we've actually got the numbers. The global advertising industry is based on courting women. Female billionaires alone have more than $1 trillion in assets. Women control 51% of the wealth in America, some $22 trillion, a percentage that is increasing, even things get worse for most women in America, career-wise. Women make up the majority of those seeking higher education. 

Unlike other disadvantaged groups, women have all the assets and power and the numbers needed to change our reality. Together, we could stop this. We don't, because we don't pull together.

We are not operating from a place of scarcity. 

It isn't because women want to tear down other women. I reject the idea of "mean girls" and "Queen Bees." It's socialization; it's gaslighting; it's bias, yes, but it's also our own internalized bias we exert on one another. We can be the victims, and the perpetrators of our own oppression. 

We are never going to see the gains we want until each of us individually stops focusing on leaning in, and we take the risk to lean together.

Leaning together is scary if you've been let down before. You are putting a lot of trust in others. You are opening up to them. But when it works, it's not just your force pushing against a system, it's the force of millions. 

This has never been more important than it is right now in 2020. Look around. More than 2 million women have left the workforce since the pandemic started. How hard did we all fight to make those inroads? Gone. Funding for women? That paltry 2% we used to get is going in the wrong direction. Share of the burden at home? It's increasing for women, not decreasing. 

What we have done up until now does not work. Things are getting worse for us. We need to try something new. 

This is why my friend, Adimika Arthur, and I created the Sisterhood Program. It's a six month course, but more than that, it's a six month commitment, to dig deep with 99 other accomplished and diverse womxn. To examine why the patriarchy is so good at getting us to do its dirty work. To examine why women fall into these patterns. To heal from past wounds. But mostly to commit to one another that we're gonna support each other the way men support each other. 

Together, we will collect our power, our networks, our influence, our experience and share it with one another. We'll stop hoarding it. And starting from a base of 100 womxn that will have profound ripple effects.

You only have to have done one of those sticker club chain letters with your kids to know this works. You buy one package of stickers, but your kid gets seven back. Women in this program are going to share the things they've fought so hard to acquire. But they're going to get 99 sticker packs of influence and connections and power back. 

Some people have asked me what they'll "get" out of this. And given how hard we have to work to earn our money, that is a totally fair question. But it's also exactly the kind of thinking that keeps us down. That's your scarcity mentality in your ear. 

I can't give up my time! I can't give up my money! I can't give up my shields without a guarantee I'll get more in return! 

You can keep operating that way, and if you work harder than anyone else, and you've got the same kinds of privilege I had, you may still succeed. But you'll still be the person at the keynote asking why women don't help other women more. Nothing will change.

Or, you can join us. We can deprogram ourselves and finally use all the power, assets, smarts and influence we have.

Sarah Lacy is the founder and CEO of Chairman Mom. She's a three-time founder, an award winning investigative journalist, and best-selling author. She's known for her no-nonsense take downs of the bro economy and her cartoons of mice and foxes she draws for her adorable kids. She lives in San Francisco.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Comments are closed.