To “Lean In,” or not to “Lean In;” That is the question.

Full disclosure: being a “nerd” isn’t nerdy anymore. Oh, and being a woman in technology is DEFINITELY not nerdy.  In fact, it is the epitome of cool.

At this point, this might be old news.  One only needs to go to his/her local coffee shop to observe youthful people and lovely ladies wearing threadbare granny sweaters and oversized glasses, sipping tea and reading a tattered copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to remind themselves that it is seriously hip to be seriously square.

What is not old news is that the historically “nerdy”  tech industry is instigating a heated dialogue about women in the workplace, and specifically women’s roles in tech-related fields.

Last Wednesday I attended an event at Google’s Boulder office titled “Google Recognizes International Women’s Day.”  The evening began with networking amongst the members of the Society of Women Engineers, the Meetup group “Women Who Code,” and the National Center for Women and Information Technology.  Oh, and there I was, a female Intern architect that happens to have a younger sister in the group “Women Who Code.” Networking was followed by a panel of two impressive women in technology-related fields—one as a successful programmer at Google, the other a renowned Computer Science professor at CU Boulder

While I might not be a programmer or web developer, the evening was of interest to me as a female representative of the architecture industry for several reasons:

  1. Architectural representation, documentation, and in many ways, construction and fabrication is reliant on current and emerging technologies.
  2. While the needle is definitely moving fast and furiously, architecture has historically been a male-dominated field (I believe the technical term is “Old Boys’ Club”).
  3. Discussions about work/life balance will forever be interesting and relevant to me.

As the evening and discussions progressed, the last question for the panel addressed the theories and attitudes about women in the workplace in the new book, Lean In; Women, Work, and the Will To Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, the former VP of Global Online Sales & Operations and current Facebook Chief Operating Officer (this is the point in the blog post where I insert an obligatory “You go, girl!”)

In the description of Lean In,  the book summary is as follows:

“Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.”

In Sandberg’s examination of why women’s progress in achieving leadership is stalled, she cites disappointing but close-to-home examples of how many women make concessions in the workplace that men typically won’t (for example, negotiating salaries or asserting themselves for job promotions, etc.).   She also proposes solutions for ways to seek  “professional achievement with personal fulfillment” while abandoning the myth of “having it all.”

The panelists were asked whether or not they agreed with the idea of “not having it all,” and in many ways, prioritizing their careers so as not to lose momentum before or after having children, etc.   Answers were mixed, and a heated debate ensued amongst an audience comprised of women of all different ages and stages of life.  Many women felt “leaning in” was unrealistic—surely women had to make worthwhile sacrifices that fit the job description of “Mother.” Others felt that Sandberg was right—backing off on professional ambitions often meant pressing a dangerous “pause” button on potentially blossoming or thriving careers; not to mention this was a decision men rarely had or have to make.

When I go to work each day, I feel fortunate that I work in a demographically balanced office with many women rockstars.  Whether it’s vocalized or not, it is easy to sense how much effort and gusto my co-workers put into completing deadlines and delivering great work while still getting home in time for a child’s recital or to construct an architecturally-impressive Halloween costume, or to be present and able to take a break from work to prioritize precious time with significant others, family, friends, and side-hobbies/pursuits.

I’ve ordered a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s  Lean In, and am admittedly excited to read it.  With that said, I am already proud of the various communities of professional women in Denver/Boulder. Just knowing there are groups such as “Women Who Code,” “Women In Design,” or “The Society of Women Engineers,” that exist to provide support, mentorship, and resources to women within similar industries gives me hope that moving forward, women will have enough resources and support to continue to pursue historically gender-imbalanced fields, skills, and opportunities in whatever capacity they might feel most comfortable.