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Luwanda Jenkins: Men should glean from ‘Lean’

I’m not one who usually jumps on the latest trends, even when it comes to a hot new book with an important point of view on women and leadership. So I thought I’d allow a little lead time to let “Lean In” settle in before rushing to gather the opinions of women who are connecting with this new twist on an age-old revelation that it’s still a man’s world.

To the contrary, I am actually more curious to hear what men think about the hot new book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that is creating a buzz and refueling a movement.

As is the case with other topics such as diversity and equal rights, it is those who have the upper hand, the perpetrators and gatekeepers, who need to be enlightened and encouraged to change behaviors, make room at the table and share the power. How about it, gentlemen? Let’s “man up” and check out “Lean In.”

For those who missed the headlines, “Lean In” examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled while providing hard data, compelling research and personal accounts that cut to the chase while confronting perceptions that impact the lives and choices of professional women. Sandberg provides wit, wisdom, practical advice and a call to action for women looking to successfully swing through the jungle gym of career advancement.

Who among the men have the courage to get in tune with women for this important conversation, you ask? I found two brave men who were willing to share their take on this. Andy Bertamini, regional president for Wells Fargo Bank, and Lorenzo Bellamy, an attorney with the Annapolis-based lobbying firm Alexander and Cleaver, offer their perspectives on the “Lean In” phenomenon. Here’s what each had to say about the book.

Q: What prompted you to read the book?

Andy: As a business leader who is interested in providing the best guidance to all team members, including women, I thought this book could provide insight.

Lorenzo: I wanted to be enlightened from the perspective of today’s young career women as a lens into the future for my two young daughters.

Q: The author comments that “professional ambition is expected of men but is optional, or worse, sometimes a negative criticism for women.” What are your thoughts on this?

Andy: Women are a growing segment in today’s workplace. Women are outpacing men in earning advanced degrees, and the statistics show that diverse leadership is good for business. I believe attitudes are shifting toward a greater acceptance of equality for everyone.

Lorenzo: U.S. western society gives men the historical ammunition to pursue ambitious dreams while women are conditioned to play supportive roles in assisting men achieve success. Women who decide to pursue careers are viewed as having to do so at the sacrifice of family, which runs afoul of our western paternalistic orientation. Women have always pursued and succeeded at ambitious careers despite being subjected to pay inequality and lack of respect and recognition for their accomplishments.

Q. Was there anything about the book that surprised you and provided a key take-away?

Lorenzo: I couldn’t help but find it interesting that while women in general still face challenges, African-American women and other women of color are marginalized to a greater degree and continue to face the glass ceiling at proportionately higher rates.

Andy: Despite the more critical commentaries I’ve read about “Lean In,” I found the book to be very balanced. Many of Sheryl Sandberg’s points, including the quote that “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder,” provide great insight. The reality in today’s business world is that being fluid in one’s career path where one can move both up, down, sideways, on and off is practical advice for everyone.

Finally, I asked both Andy and Lorenzo if other men are reading “Lean In” and what are they saying? They both indicated that they’ve asked around, and “Lean In” is not topping the male radar reading list. So for all you male business leaders out there, it’s time to man up and “Lean In.”

A member of The Daily Record’s Maryland Top 100 Women Circle of Excellence, Luwanda Walker Jenkins is special assistant to the president at Coppin State University.