When Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, encouraged us all to "lean in" in 2013, women around the world celebrated a new feminist manifesto.
Her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, stemmed from a TED talk she gave a few years prior about how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers and provoked conversations about how we should focus more on what women can do, rather than focusing on what they can't do. It was the whole "you can have it all" theory reborn. Her message, simplified, was if a woman works hard enough, and asserts herself enough, she can thrive at home and at work.
But there was plenty of backlash, even before the #metoo movement gained force. The book was criticised for being "too elitist", after all having it all is much easier if you're rich and educated. Some said there was too much responsibility placed on the individual, rather than the structures around them.
In 2018 Michelle Obama, one woman you would think pretty much has it all, even went as far as saying it was all "a lie".
"It's not always enough to lean in because that s--- doesn't work all the time," Obama reportedly said.
In 2018 The Washington Post even went as far to declare that "leaning in" was out.
And now, there seems to be a whole "leaning out" movement, and it's been inspired by our time in lockdown.
(I'd advise you here not to google "leaning out", which seems to direct you to millions of pages about how to lose fat while maintaining muscle, perhaps also something we'll have to do post lockdown.)
No, leaning out is taking a step back and realising what is important in your life. Our Venn diagram of the different aspects which make up our lives has been morphed into one big overlapping circle.
I found a book, Leaning Out: An alternative perspective for the modern corporate woman by Monica Pierce, and I liked its premise: "The book gives confidence to readers who want to live the lives they choose, not the ones they are obligated to live ... it also looks at the flaws of Leaning In, making women realise it is okay if their immortality project is to be a mum or some other personal passion."
(I should have an immortality project?)
Now bless, Pierce's website says she's a "wife, mother, writer", she and her husband Michael and their three moppets live in Idaho where they enjoy "exploring the outdoors and spending quality time as a family". After 15 years in the corporate world Pierce "stumbled upon a great passion for writing" and now spends her days sharing her perspectives as a "modern working mother".
Whoopdidoo, as my nana would say. But I do love the concept of leaning out.
I know this is completely different for every "modern working mother", even those of us who aren't so modern anymore. Twenty years ago we were having conversations about which of us wanted to go back to work once we had babies, which of us wanted to stay at home, which of us would try and find a way of mixing the two. With hindsight it's been an interesting two decades watching us achieve our goals, fail miserably, change our minds, and do it all differently in the different stages of our children's lives.
Did any of us get it right? Can you even classify it that way? We just did what was right at the time and did what worked. Even if it was not what we wanted to do.
If there's one thing lockdown has hopefully taught us it's what is essential in our lives. And yes we have to pay the bills and the mortgage and find something productive to do with our days. But ask yourself what has brought you joy over the past few months. Ask yourself why you posted a photo of that giraffe you all made out of cardboard boxes, or the biscuits you baked and not a photo of the spreadsheet you completed. Were Zoom meetings with friends and family more enjoyable than work ones where the same people went on and on and on about nothing important? Have you ever felt less connected to your office space than you do today? Are your bosses now more aware, because they've been doing the exact same thing in their homes, that combining parenting and corporate expectations can sometimes be a struggle?
I'm not saying lean out so far you tumble backwards off your chair, but perhaps it's time for all of us, employers and employees, to take stock of what brings value to not only the workplace, but to our lives as well.