Thinking Beyond Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," with Jody Greenstone Miller

Business executive Jody Greenstone Miller believes Sheryl Sandberg missed the mark in her landmark 2013 book "Lean In." It's not a lack of ambition keeping women on the outside looking in, says Miller. It's lack of time, as well as a lack of respect for varying time commitments.

Jody Greenstone Miller: Sheryl Sandberg and the cadre of women who are writing about the problems women have that are creating barriers for their success whether it's confidence or it's being bossy or it is being perceived as somehow less friendly or desirable if you're successful are all fine. These are not new ideas. These are ideas that have been around since Matina Horner 40 years ago wrote her famous "fear of success" study where she showed that women were afraid of what success would do to them. And she did a fantastic research project where she asked women from very elite colleges and men from elite colleges to answer a prompt. And the prompt was: Jane finds herself at the top of her medical school class. And for men it was: John finds himself at the top of his medical school class. And the men would write about John's wonderful success and how he would prosper and have a wonderful family and wife. And the women would write things like Jane will be torn limb from limb. She will be miserable for the rest of her life. She's never going to be, you know, happy.

And based on this Matina Horner said women have an internal block that prevents them from being successful because they're afraid of its impact. Now this was 40 years ago. So what we're hearing today from people like Sheryl is very much the same, that there are these internal things, there are societal perceptions and that those are the real hurdles to women becoming true leaders globally and leaders whether it's politics, whether it's nonprofits, or whether it's corporate America. And I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with that. And some of these I think are, in fact, real issues. But I don't think that's the real problem. I think the real problem is the way institutions are structured and the paths to leadership today, which require one kind of person to be successful. And that kind of person is the kind of person who makes the judgment that working and working at very intense ways that require sacrifices across many other elements of an individual's life is the way you will achieve success and they're willing to make that choice.

And there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is many people, many of them are women, but many of them increasingly are millennial men, don't always want to exercise their talents in a way that it means sacrificing so much of the rest of their life. And so if we really want to tackle why there aren't more women in leadership and why maybe you will want different kinds of leaders, what I call a diversity of leadership that really is about a diversity of values, not just diversity of gender or race. You need to create alternative paths to leadership. And what that really means is what is the problem? If it's not leaning in and if it's not confidence, what's stopping women. And I believe it's the fact that most jobs today at the very senior levels require an inordinate amount of time. It's not a mystery. It's not rocket science. It's that jobs today are structured to require people to work 80, 90, 100 hours a week in order to achieve success in the organization. And to me that is both shortsighted on behalf of organizations because I don't think they're getting the best of people and they're limiting their talent pool and obviously individuals who may desire to exercise their talents if they're lucky enough to have them to rise to the top in a way that, you know, they can do it with still allowing for other things in their life. So I think you've got to reexamine how organizations are structured and rethink time.

So when we think about time, the fact that people are working five days a week, eight, 10 hours a day is actually relatively arbitrary. It's a holdover from the period of time when we were a farming culture. And you have to ask yourself why does that matter? What matters is the amount of time we need to get a particular piece of work done and how we are gonna apply talent against that. It's not as though there is a magic to working five days a week or six days a week, eight hours a day, or 10 hours a day. That's just what we're used to. This is not rocket science. It's not curing cancer. It's something that every individual manager and every company has the power to change. And the reason you want to change it — you want to think about changing it, is that you can expand your talent pool.

There are a lot of people on the sidelines who have enormous talent, but they want to work differently. They want to work three months a year, not 12 months a year. They want to work four days a week, not five days a week. They want to work six hours a day, not 10 hours a day. There are all kinds of reasons that people have different time commitments that'll work for them. And companies today are not flexible enough to understand how to accommodate and manage so that you can take advantage of this talent pool. And if you open your aperture to think about time differently, then you will find enormous resources available to you that were not available to you right now.

So you absolutely, you know, will have greater communication cost, greater teamwork cost, but you will have such a loyal and productive talent pool inside of your company that those costs, I think, are more than offset. And our experience has been that people who work 25 hours a week are the most efficient, the most focused. They know they have time to do whatever else they need to do in their life when they're not working. So when they work, they really work. If you hire somebody 40, 50, 60 hours a week, the rest of their life doesn't go away, it just gets squeezed in. And so productivity is impacted and I think you find that it affects both satisfaction, because people always feel stretched, and ultimately productivity. And so I feel from our experience that the folks who are working less than 40 hours a week are as productive and maybe more productive than the people who work more.

Again, it's not right or wrong, but it's the ability to have a culture where not everybody has made the decision that I'm gonna put my head down and only focus on my work to the exclusion of other things in my life because I want to excel and I want to be a leader. You will be bringing in people who have made different choices, but may have just as much talent and just as much ambition actually and just as much drive. They just want to do it in smaller chunks.


Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton


Jody Greenstone Miller critiques Sheryl Sanderg's "Lean In" approach, citing it as a rather old ideology. Miller says it's not for lack of ambition that women are too often on the outside looking in. It's lack of time, as well as a lack of respect for varying time commitments. In order to diversify our leadership class we need to reconceive of our notions of time, hours worked, flexibility, and productivity in the workplace. Miller is the founder and CEO of Business Talent Group:

  • Beethovan and Picasso are the perfect examples for mastering the creative process.
  • Behind each of their works are countless studies and sketches.
  • The lesson? Never erase anything, keep iterating, and find new paths to familiar destinations.

New study finds the egg may actually 'choose' the Sperm

Here's the first evidence to challenge the "fastest sperm" narrative.

Keep reading Show less
Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.

The creator of the winning video — chosen by Big Think's audience, the Lumina Foundation, and an independent panel of experts (bios below) — will be flown to New York for a taping in the Big Think studio as a way to further promote their vision for a new, disruptive idea in post-secondary education.

Thank you to all of the contestants who spent time submitting applications, and best of luck to our final four competitors.

Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod

Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.

Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome

PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.

Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young

Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.

Finalist: Practera - Nikki James

Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.

Thank you to our judges!

Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.

Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.

Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.

Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.

Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.