Sheryl Sandberg’s super popular movement that calls for women to “lean in” to the careers has been criticized for leaving out women who are less privileged and lacking many of the options commonly discussed. Many poor and working class women are unable to hold out for higher salaries, or decide who works and who doesn’t. The option to stay home during pregnancy or after childbirth are often not really options but rather the result of having no other choice. How then can we make the Lean In movement more inclusive?
Reflecting on her past experiences as a single mother on welfare, Kezia Willingham, says, “While I think it’s great that some women, and men, have the luxury to choose who gets to stay home and who gets to work, and how to jockey for the best possible salary, I feel like the discussion overlooks entire segments of the population, like gay people, poor people, working class folk, and many recent immigrants.”
The truth of the matter is that more than 46 million people in the United States are currently living in poverty. Add this to the women in the segments of the population mentioned by Willingham, and you have a huge chunk of the population that views the Lean In movement as irrelevant and unhelpful.
There are simple ways however, that the Lean In movement can become a bit more inclusive. According to Willingham, here are five:
1. Include More People in the Discussion
It seems like a simple remedy, but as it is, the Lean In discussion is completely absent of poor and working class people. Including the stories of cashiers and waitresses along with their failures and successes, inspires solutions to work-life balance that are relevant to others in similar positions.
2. Advocate for programs that help people develop human capital.
Include programs that are relevant to the working class and poor. Advocating and discussing how to ask for a raise isn’t the most important discussion to people who are just happy to be working. Programs such as affordable childcare and grants to attend college, target women in these situations and help guide them along paths for success.
3. Mentor those who are on their way up.
Many women, regardless of their current positions in life, want to work toward something better but don’t know how. A mentor with professional experience who has been there, can become a tremendous help to those who are ambitious, yet struggling.
4. Encourage and support those who are working hard to create better futures for themselves.
Encouragement goes a long way for everyone, poor or wealthy. Sometimes it is the little things such as an encouraging word or help with childcare that can be just enough to keep a person’s eyes on their goals.
5. Recognize that ambition manifests itself in different ways.
Not everyone’s ambition looks the same. Depending on where you are or how you were raised, ambition may manifest completely differently in one person than it would in another. Being able to recognize that my ambition may not look like yours, serves as a valuable tool in helping a person recognize and map out specific goals.
If the focus of the Lean In movement is to inspire women to become successful in their career paths, the movement itself could become an even bigger force if it included all women. If just a little more help is provided, and more women are able to reach their full potential, everyone wins – not just the few who are privileged.
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