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'It's Not Always Enough To Lean In': Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg And The Workplace

Former first lady Michelle Obama, left, is interviewed by Elizabeth Alexander during the "Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama" at Barclays Center in Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Former first lady Michelle Obama, left, is interviewed by Elizabeth Alexander during the "Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama" at Barclays Center in Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Five years ago Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg told women to “lean in.” Now, many women, including Michelle Obama, say it just doesn’t work. We look at the pushback against lean in.


Katherine Goldstein, journalist, host of the forthcoming podcast “Double Shift,” which focuses on the experience of working mothers. (@KGeee)

Kathleen Gerson, professor of sociology at New York University whose work focuses on gender, families and work. Author of “The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family.” (@KathleenGerson)

Anna Dapelo-Garcia, founder and president of Lean In Latinas. Administrative director of patient access services and financial clearance services at Stanford Health Care.

Highlights From The Hour

From The Reading List

Vox: “I was a Sheryl Sandberg superfan. Then her ‘Lean In’ advice failed me.” — “In 2013, I was a Sheryl Sandberg superfan. When Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In,’ came out, I was a 29-year-old hard-charging New York social media strategist and editor. The manifesto felt like a cross between a playbook and a bible. I devoured its contents, and I decided to create my own Lean In Circle of women following a program created by Sandberg’s companion nonprofit, I documented the year-long experience at Slate and was even quoted in a later edition of the book, extolling the virtues of starting a circle.

“Fast-forward to today, when Sheryl Sandberg has been in the news for several storms of criticisms related to how she handled Russian election meddling on Facebook, where she’s the chief operating officer. A May 2018 Bloomberg Businessweek piece points out that five years later, Lean In may have helped with some incremental advancements for individual women in corporate America, but it doesn’t seem to have moved the needle at all on big issues like overall pay equity.

“This week, Michelle Obama declared in front of a stadium-size audience, “And it’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.” I found myself vigorously nodding in agreement with the former first lady. So what happened in the past five years to transform me from devotee to critic? Now seems like the perfect moment to go back and revisit my own experience with the Lean In movement.”

New York Times: “‘Lean In’: Five Years Later” — “People ask why I started Lean In Latinas. Well, I grew up in East San Jose in an environment where people were living on welfare checks. There were drugs, gangs, guns, and a lot of dysfunction in my own family. I never heard the word ‘college’ come out of my parents’ mouth; I didn’t know anyone who went. I was lost. I dropped out of high school when I was 17. But I got a job in health care. I was smart, I had hustle, and I had mentors at work, and it wasn’t too many years before I had people with college degrees and masters reporting to me.

“I wanted to go back to college, though, and got to Stanford in my late 20s (and later, I went for my master’s). I knew I was smart, but it was so uncomfortable. One of the issues with Latino culture is that at work, people don’t question authority; you don’t make waves. I was often the only brown girl in the room, and I’d be thinking: What is wrong with me? Why are the Caucasian girls fine with speaking up?

“Over time, I became more comfortable, of course. I graduated, went on to get a master’s degree and became one of the most decorated people in my field. About two and a half years ago, I read ‘Lean In’ when a friend recommended it. It was very exciting to me, its ideas about leadership, and when I went to the website, I saw the possibility of starting a circle. And when I turned 50, I did a self-assessment. I had checked a bunch of ‘success’ boxes, but I hadn’t checked the ‘giving back’ box. I needed a sense of success in that way, too. I had the intention of helping others, but I didn’t know how. ‘Lean In’ provided me that platform.”

NPR: “Michelle Obama’s Take On ‘Lean In’? ‘That &#%! Doesn’t Work’” — “Michelle Obama’s fans have often remarked that she comes across as authentic even as her every move is analyzed, and sometimes criticized.

“One such moment of candor occurred this weekend, as the former first lady took the stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the latest stop on the arena-filling tour for her memoir, Becoming.

“As she spoke with her friend, the poet Elizabeth Alexander, Obama talked about the challenges of balancing career and family.

“‘Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all,’ she said, according to Vanity Fair. ‘It ain’t equal. I tell women that whole “you can have it all” — mmm, nope, not at the same time, that’s a lie. It’s not always enough to lean in because that s*** doesn’t work.’ ”

The Hill: “Michelle Obama: People questioning whether I could be first lady ‘doesn’t go away’” — “Michelle Obama on Tuesday, speaking to a group of men of color about double standards, said that people never stopped questioning whether she “could” be first lady.

“Obama was fielding questions about how students of color in college can handle feeling that their status is being ‘questioned,’ according to local newspaper The Detroit News.

“‘One question you should ask some people who approach you is, why your status is being questioned versus anyone else’s?’ Obama said during a surprise appearance at a gathering of Wayne State University students. The discussion, which took place at a Detroit museum, was attended by an audience solely composed of men of color, the newspaper noted.”

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

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