Why 'Lean In' Should Be Read by Academics

It's not just about the business world.

June 2, 2013

Although at first glance, it appears to be a lecture for women trying to find their own path in the jungle of businesses, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In offers lessons that go beyond the world of big numbers and big schedules. Even though I only have a quarter of a foot in the academic world – and still enjoy it – I saw a couple of hints that may be helpful for my intellectual experiences as well.

Decades after the first waves of the feminist movement aimed to make equality a reality, the promise of equality is still far from an accomplishment. Of course, women are more present in the public sphere,  and in many parts of the world they are also top representatives of the establishment. However,, I agree that “men still run the world.” Somehow, this situation should also be considered as a consequence of the lack of self confidence of many women. From personal employment experience, I can say that I often noticed how some women in positions of authority chose to use their power to discriminate against other women around them instead of supporting team-work. The need for solidarity outlined several times by Sandberg is essential in those gender-related issues. I may add that it is a basic start for any approach that aims to support equality, in the case of either political or social minorities.

Somehow, the academic world may look more protected from the race for good positions and good salaries that we see in the daily reality of the business universe. The utopic projection of the academic is far from the busy schedule, in the quiet ambiance of the library with many, many books around, polishing carefully each and every word of the next book or article. This may be possible for the independent researchers, a category that is getting more and more courage to develop later, far away from the bureaucratic chores of the universities. However, when it comes to the daily work in an academic position, the bureaucracy and the race for good positions may eat a lot of precious time that is not spent in the library. And here too, the surprising reality for many dreamers is a world where the gender balance is far from being achieved.

I am not sure that a positive discrimination may help to close the gap between the dream of equality and the reality of equal chances for men and women academics, as the academic scale and achievements should be always evaluated from the perspective of merits and intellectual quality. But I am not so naive to assume that a positive attitude and more advocacy will empower women academics to get a chance of success and realize their potential. For instance, I don’t think that gender studies should be the exclusive domain of women and the engineering conferences the privileged area of expertise of men. Men and women are equally able to go further to do their jobs and be happy with their career choices. There is no need to be a superwoman; I think is important to never forget that each of us has our own share to contribute to change the world in a better working place.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.



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