Does "Leaning In" Mean Not Raising Claims of Discrimination or Harassment?

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Yesterday I saw Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean in,” a book which has ignited a national conversation about gender issues speak about her book. Her speech was inspiring. It’s pretty clear that she has been hearing the feedback from women who say that her book doesn’t acknowledge the advantages she has over the average woman or the multitude of different goals each individual woman may have. Having yet to finish her book, I can’t really comment on whether it is too narrow or oversimplified in its approach. Her speech at least accounted for the fact that women are individuals with unique sets of personalities and experiences. What surprised me was the thinly veiled implication that interpretations of some discrimination and harassment laws might be an impediment to progress for women.

Most of our clients are professionals and/or executives, and we work with both men and women. The irony of Sheryl’s implication is that we see just as many men as women raise claims of wrongful termination, harassment and/or discrimination when they are terminated or pushed out of a position. Most professional men and women don’t want to sue, but are smart enough to know that walking away from the table when an employer has intentionally harmed their income and/or career is not necessarily a successful business move.

Too many professional women ignore harassment and/or discrimination as a cost of doing business. Men and women should be able to mentor each other without the risk of igniting rumors of sexual harassment, but women shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing valid claims. At the very least, women should be equally encouraged to use leverage in personal negotiations. If a release/waiver of her claims gets a woman more severance to bridge her to her next job, should she really be expected not to use it? Does the same standard apply to professional men?