In 2013, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book entitled, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She examined how women’s initial push into the work force, climb up the corporate ladder and fight for equality with men in the workplace has stalled in the modern era. Her suggestions to move further toward equality were that women “lean in, “sit at the table,” seek challenges and take risks in pursuit of goals. These are noble ambitions – and women around the world are pushing to advance feminist issues in the workplace – but Helena Morrissey is challenging that premise.
Morrissey is one of only a few women to have been a chief executive of a major investment bank, so she has an intimate and nuanced understanding of the workplace and workplace culture at the top of a large company. While you may think that “leaning in” got her to where she is today – a career woman who is also a mother of nine (yes, nine) children – she says women forcing equality in the workplace isn’t about carving their places in a patriarchal system, it’s about changing the system entirely.
In her new book, A Good Time to be a Girl: Don’t Lean in, Change the System, Morrissey argues that women should be more focused on developing smarter thinking, better tools and broader definitions of success–rather than the “self-improvement” advice they are constantly bombarded with–to really achieve a gender balance. When growth and change is the goal, it’s not just women who benefit, it’s everyone.
“I think we all become over-anxious with all the self-improvement advice whereas, actually we women are great already,” Morrissey told Your Morning, “I think we can contribute working with men. My approach is very much about working with men and listening to each other about how we want to improve both our workplaces but also get better business results.
“A lot of companies recognize a need for different types of leadership, for being more connected with each other and empathetic and I think we women can contribute to that, but not by continually trying to be men. Being honorary men is not the answer.”
So what is the answer? According to Morrissey, it’s getting more women in the room so that the conversation can shift away from having a token woman and towards more progressive ideas. In pursuit of that goal, Morrissey founded the 30% Club which campaigns in the United Kingdom for gender balance on company boards. The idea behind their work is that diversity in leadership is not only good for the work environment, it means more ideas, better ideas and an overall increase in performance.
Morrissey sees great hope for the upcoming generation. While previous generations of women have had to fight for a spot in the workforce, often while taking on the majority of responsibilities at home, Morrissey sees a shift in the younger generation to a more equal mindset.
“Young men — as well as young women — today expect to have a fair part in their future family’s upbringing as well as seeing their sisters and female friends have career opportunities as well,” she said, “I think this is a great opportunity we have now. We need to enable the next generation to step forward like that, not just to copy what’s gone on before.”
“My view is actually, instead of submerging our differences and trying to fit in, to lean into what’s already there. We should create a new table to sit at and I think that would be better for all of us.”