Board member blog post: Being part of – and apart from – ‘Leaning In’

Mary C. CurtisBy Mary C. Curtis

This has been the year of Sheryl Sandberg and “leaning in,” and, of course, the Journalism & Women Symposium would be in the middle of this timely debate. It’s part of our JAWS mission, after all. And it’s not as though we haven’t been posing similar questions for quite a while.

As I asked in a column in The Washington Post, “Is the manifesto about women not doing enough or trying to do too much? Will busy working women be able to spare the time to see its lessons as valuable rather than additions to already crowded to-do lists? If women feel guilty about shortchanging home or work, is that really Sandberg’s fault?”

At times, it has seemed as though it’s Sandberg’s world and the rest of us just get to react to it. Was it what we have done, have not done, should have done? But there’s a value in that exercise, too, even if it only gets women thinking about how we help ourselves and one another.

I’d like to think I would be saying that even if I weren’t a part – a small part, admittedly – of the phenomenon that is “Lean In,” right there on page 139, in the chapter titled “The Myth of Doing It All.” That’s right, the “myth,” not the secret to “doing it all.” As I said in the quote from a column for The Washington Post, “the secret is there is no secret – just doing the best you can with what you’ve got.”

It was a bit of a kick that Sandberg found something of value in my simple advice. I’ve certainly thought about her ideas as I’ve shared a few of my own, especially in another column titled “Do black women need lessons on ‘leaning in’?”

From my own experience, I noted that “… black women have long been in the work force, facing different and difficult obstacles. Sandberg warns that being assertive, a positive quality in a man, can be judged as ‘too aggressive’ behavior in a women. For black women, the line between leaning in and being perceived as stereotypically pushy is awfully thin. The rewards may be less and the risks far greater.”

The process of reading and thinking about “Lean In” and the debate surrounding it resembles the conversations we share each day on the JAWS listserv. We celebrate accomplishments, encourage one another to take risks and feel free to disagree – respectfully.

As in the case of my “lean in” observations, I sometimes remind the women of JAWS to recognize that diversity comes in all ages, career paths and races. I hope to continue to raise my voice on these issues and more, and recruit some members to the choir in my last few months on the board.

After all, there’s no time limit on how long we can continue to learn and lean.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3.