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Is It Time to Start Lean-In MD Movement?

lean in Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has taken on the mantle of helping women realize their ambitions in the business workplace. Lean In, the name of both her new book and her initiative, focuses on what women can do for themselves—surely not a comprehensive approach for change, but one that is bound to impact women who want to achieve their leadership goals in a big way.

Now, not everyone can (or wants to) be a Sheryl Sandberg. But everyone can learn something from her . Surely, if the names behind the movement were Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, and the offering were the same, no one would criticize this very aggressive, top-down and bottom-up approach to creating women as leaders in business.  But being that the author is a powerful, successful woman, who has a unique point of view, criticism abounds to no one’s great benefit.

Clearly for women in every professional field, and in particular for women physicians, it’s both the worker and the workplace which need help to co-adapt. So Sandberg’s focus on the adaptation of women has received more than its share of criticism.  For women in medicine, there are specific challenges which are not easily remedied, and perhaps even made worse, by the Lean In approach.  Gender stereotyping, the ways we are expected to behave as physician leaders–in control, authoritative, and aggressive–does not always jive with the  ways we are expected to behave as women.  This emotional-cognitive dissonance takes us out of the running for important leadership roles, Sandberg’s main target.

However, Sandberg’s triad of 1) creating a broad online community, which builds from her brilliance at Facebook, 2) educating women about workplace barriers and how to overcome them, and 3) promoting “lean in circles” where networking and shared problem solving can occur, is a  monumental effort with sound principles of starting a movement and worthy of replication.  Partnering with companies that can recognize that this particular strategy for funneling women professionals into leadership positionsis critical, begins the closure of the chasm for workplace remodeling.  While not focused on workplace remodeling (one of the major criticisms) Lean In groups provide business professionals with at least one important piece of the puzzle.  Other women professionals, such as women physicians can use this model and take to first step to getting us to network, recommend each other, and help to prepare and promote women leaders.

 So how can women physicians learn from Sandberg’s Lean In  movement stories. First we can teach ourselves and each other how to create community–the old girls network.  We must support each other with rich mentorship and sponsorship programs.  And finally we must get hip to meeting and overcoming challenges and barriers with strategies that work for us–like flexible work schedules, facing gender stereotyping, and negotiating our way to a better career.
Sandberg has many free training videos on her website, and while these might not apply 100% to women healers in the medical workplace, their content is worthwhile and worth the time to help us get started in thinking about the ways we behave that leave us behind. The one on creating a level playing field is particularly helpful.

Leadership development is but one part of the complex and often confounding needs that change requires to accommodate women in the healthcare workplace.  But Sandberg has aimed high and will surely succeed in helping many women professional succeed.   One might (and some already have) criticized Sandberg’s efforts for not encompassing all the barriers and challenges women professionals face.  The need for a flexibly and fair workplace are important drivers of letting women realize their full potential and strengthen our workforce.  This is for another crusader, another book, another movement.  So instead of unhelpful unnecessary criticism, creating  unnecessary noise and disruption, let’s define the issues and create strategies to overcome them.

Take this Lean In Movement for what it is–a good model, fueled by fame and fortune by one very talented and gutsy lady.  Thank you Sheryl Sandberg. We at WMDR hope to become a partner organization and help you build  Lean In community.  How about a movement Lean In MD?

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