Books: Lean In and Lean Out



I’ve just finished a couple of books and accompanying criticism.  Given the context of a recent events, it seems as good a point as any to write about them.  “Lean In” and “Lean Out” (actually Lean Out is a collection of essays).  Both are about dealing with sexism in tech.

Lean In, I found interesting.  A bunch of thoughts and examples where women miss out not through someone being explicitly openly sexist, but through a load of continual low-grade things that might bunch go under your radar where “things people do that we recognise as good development” tends to align much better with “things men do” than “things women do”.  A load of examples added to my mental list of  things to actively look for to help people (and also incidentally a bunch of things to look out for, to help anyone who has lower confidence).  Lean In isn’t a magic fix, but is definitely a useful read for anyone trying to work on the problem “The tech company where I work seems basically OK on gender, but I know about subconscious bias; I wonder what we can and should be doing better?”

Lean Out, was much more sporadically useful – which is reasonable to expect from a collection of essays.  The biggest thing I took away from it was that my prior assumption that most of tech is like where I work is apparently flawed…

I was reading these books in the context of worrying about improving a culture at work where we’re rationalist, try to treat everyone the same, but social norms and subconscious bias work against that.  “Lean in” provides good thoughts that help on that, working against the biases and over time creating a culture where those biases are fewer or don’t exist.

It seems that that’s not “normal” in at least a significant fraction of tech companies (from  what I’ve read it seems that this is especially true start-ups or companies that have grown fast from start-ups and not had time/effort put in to develop their culture).  In a company where the culture is be a bunch of total arseholes as described in several of the essays in Lean Out and in wider news recently, I can see and feel why it seems reasonable to be angry and shouty and go down the “don’t fix it – bail and start again” suggested by various of the Lean Out essays.  For the record, it shouldn’t be for “feminists” to hold arseholes to account.  They need to be held to account by any humanist.  It’s not (just) about not being sexist.  It’s about not being a dick.

That’s not to say, I’ve stopped worrying about how to improve our company culture (Just because we’re miles over the “Not being full of arseholes” bar, doesn’t mean we should get complacent!)  More, that Lean Out in particular helped me see and understand where some of the anger is coming from.





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