What has been lost in the intense dialogue about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book is that “leaning in” is only one aspect of the change needed to fully include and advance women in the workplace. According to research by McKinsey & Company, there are four major barriers to women’s advancement:
- Structural obstacles
- Lifestyle choices
- Institutional mind-sets (bias, stereotypes, and ingrained notions of what types of behaviors leaders exhibit)
- Individual mind-sets (women holding themselves back)
Once again, the debate will center on what’s wrong with women and how they have to change to advance, not on what needs to change within organizations – structural obstacles and institutional mind-sets. The McKinsey research suggests that the latter are the most important but difficult to overcome: “Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs.” The top structural barriers for women include their lack of:
- role models
- access to informal networks, and
- sponsors in upper management who create opportunities for them.
Organizations can and should focus considerable resources on eliminating these systemic roadblocks by instituting an inclusiveness initiative.
Resist the temptation to blame women for not “leaning in” and get busy creating systemic change to support their advancement.