In Her Own Words Book Club: Leaning in a Different Direction with Elissa Shevinsky
In Her Own Words Book Club | November 27, 2016
Lean In was integral in sparking a conversation that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but left unspoken. The Lean In movement was born out of the brave words of Sheryl Sandberg, and grew from the willingness of countless other women to take action and also share their stories. This is where Lean Out comes in. On its own, the title suggests a strict rebuttal to leaning in, but the book goes way beyond this. Instead, it’s an accompaniment to Lean In – it’s another layer of a very important conversation.
“If this book matters it’s because we are part of a movement to tell the untold stories.” – page 13
Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture adds to the conversation by contributing the voices of women who have been deep in the trenches of the workplace for decades, yet barely heard. It features the stories and insight of queer women, women of colour, trans women, and gender-nonconforming persons. It showcases that the issues women face in the workplace, specifically women in tech, are multifaceted and complex. In the end, Lean Out is not against women who have chosen to lean in. It respects choice and understands that there can be multiple solutions to the same problem. It is a manifesto that promotes different tactics for fighting the same fight.
Edited by Elissa Shevinsky, Lean Out is comprised of 23 essays ranging in subject matter and writing style. It is a journey into the lives of women in technology. Elissa identifies herself as an entrepreneur, a #LADYBOSS, and the Managing Director at Kearney Boyle & Associates. She does a fantastic job at capturing the incredible voices of various incredible women. The list of featured authors is long, and a testament to the effort and thoughtfulness that this project required.
Leigh Alexander (“The Other Women”) is a writer and critic. Katherine Cross (“Fictive Ethnicity and Nerds”) is a feminist writer, sociologist, and Ph.D student at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Squinky (“Notes from a Game Industry Outcast,” “Making Games is Easy, Belonging is Hard”) is an indie game developer. Krys Freeman (“2nd Generation in Tech”) is an entrepreneur, visionary and technologist. Erica Joy (“The other side of diversity”) is a Slack engineer and ex-Google employee. Leanne Pittsford (“Lesbians who Tech”) is an entrepreneur, investor, and the founder of Lesbians Who Tech. Ash Huang (“Runners”) is a designer and writer. Lauren Bacon (“Where do we go from here?) is an entrepreneur coach and intersectional feminist. And these are just some of the many voices of Lean Out.
Without a doubt, with this manifesto, Elissa builds a list of admirable women who are willing to put everything at stake and push for a better world. These are just some of the voices of the sisterhood for the 21st century that both Sheryl Sandberg and Reshma Saujani so deeply advocate.
As mentioned earlier, to lean out is to play the game differently than expected. This concept is grounded in the belief that we cannot dismantle a powerful system just by playing by its rules. Leaning in works wonderfully for many, but leaning out gives women an option to follow their own unique path. This is largely the reason why I view Lean In and Lean Out as complementary. Feminism is about choice. And there is power in making a choice. For many women featured in this book, leaning out is about fighting from the outside – it’s about going “around the obstacles.” It creates momentum in its willingness to recreate – new industries, new business models, new work ethics, and new ways of thinking about many of those same problems Lean In tackles. Central to the book are themes to do with searching for authenticity and a sense of belonging within the workplace, pinning down the specific issues women face, and promoting healthy solutions to these struggles.
Enculturation, belonging, and authenticity are the principle tenets of essays such as “Making Games is Easy, Belonging is Hard,” “The Other Side of Diversity,” “Lesbian Who Tech.” Squinky beautifully shares their experience as a game developer in “Making Games is Easy, Belong is Hard.” Much of this piece has to do with not fitting a certain mold and the setbacks associated with this, but it also tells the story of someone unwilling to limit themselves: “Imagine what I could have done if I had been encouraged instead of ignored” (pg 96). Squinky finds strength in cultivating their unique personality and perspective and acknowledging that these traits are a benefit, not a deterrent, to the world of gaming. Erica Joy speaks of an internal battle in “The Other Side of Diversity.” For years, she juggles with assimilation and authenticity. Ultimately, the latter wins, which solidifies her decision to lean out as a way to acknowledging the needs of her true self. In “Lesbians Who Tech,” Leanne Pittsford confirms the importance of community in helping marginalized groups feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. Strong communities advocate for the needs of these groups, provide a support network, and raise visibility. For women to feel at home in the workplace, they will need to feel as if they belong, and this sense of belonging must come from an authentic place.
The struggle and hustle, the sweat and tears of women in tech are brilliantly captured in essays such as “What We Don’t Say,” “Sexism in Tech,” “2nd Generation Tech,” and “The Pipeline Isn’t the Problem.” In “What We Don’t Say,” Sunny Allen tells a raw and deeply personal story, which spotlights the less glamourous side of Silicon Valley. She discusses failure, homelessness, and the hardships she has had to endure before finding success in the world of tech. Katy Levinson (“Sexism in Tech”) digs into the ways tech culture reinforces sexism and labels those speaking out about sexism a ‘liability’ – a sure way to shut down any meaningful conversations and wipe out any learning opportunities. Krys Freeman retells the obstacles faced by her mother in “2nd Generation in Tech.” She recalls the hard work and emotional toll her mother faced as a pioneer in a workplace dominated by males. Elissa Shevinsky addresses the flaw in simply training more women in technology as a response to the dismal numbers of women employed in tech. As the title suggests, “The Pipeline Isn’t the Problem,” shows that the tech industry still appears reluctant to hire women already applying, and highlights its failures in retaining those women already employed.
The book also finds success in outlining numerous ways of coping and coming together to incite change. Essays such as “Beyond the Binary,” “Venture Capital and the Case of the Whiny Woman,” and “Where Do We Go?” shed light on actions we can take to make a better tomorrow. Brook Shelley validates the importance of forming strong communities as a way to “share stories, build each other up, encourage, teach” (pg 117). In “Venture Capital and the Case of the Whiny Woman,” Erica Swallow shares three key steps to solve the gender gap in the venture capital industry. She rallies for changes to come from the inside, for men to join in, and for the need to set up best practices to better attract and retain women. Finally, in “Where Do We Go?” Lauren Bacon advocates for the formation of a collective goal. She pushes for women to come together, no matter what choice they’ve made, to form a strategic alliances. Yes, there are many solutions to one problem, but we are always stronger together.
“I’m a big believer that we don’t all have to think the same way, or want the same things, in order to coordinate effectively.” page 234
I felt inspired and uplifted when I finished reading Lean In for the first time, and I felt very similarly after finishing Lean Out. It was a privilege to be allowed to discover the individual experiences of so many resilient people. These stories almost brought me to tears, made me laugh out loud, and made me rethink a lot of things I thought I knew about myself. It’s interesting how much you learn about yourself when you learn about other people. Ultimately, it made me feel more comfortable with growing at my own pace and in my own way, rather than following an expected path. How will your path look?
In Her Own Words Reading Guide
November Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne Marie Slaughter
December The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
January Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person By Shonda Rhimes
February Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock