This Anti–Lean In Pioneer Is Teaching Men How to Behave in the Workplace

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Photo: Thomas M. Barwick/Getty Images

Lean In — Sheryl Sandberg’s seminal text on how women should try to get ahead in the workplace — released to much rancor in 2013. The book was derided as marketing to rich women who can control their own fate, for being clueless about the challenges single mothers face in their careers, and, more broadly, for putting the onus on women to make changes in the workplace, when so many of women’s career struggles are caused by men.

Earlier this spring, a year after the death of her husband, Sandberg penned a Facebook post addressing some of the blind spots she had been criticized for. “Our widespread cultural assumption that every child lives with a two-parent heterosexual married couple is out of date,” she wrote. “Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right.” But the legacy of Lean In remained, and three years on, one woman is aiming to do some necessary course correction.

Valerie Aurora, who was profiled by the Guardian, is the founder of Frame Shift Consulting, a tech consulting firm aimed at improving diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley. Her program is called Ally Skills and she brings her workshops to big tech companies like Google, Slack, and Spotify to teach male employees and managers what they need to do to reduce their impact on women’s pain points in the workplace. From Aurora’s Guardian profile:

“I am teaching men to actively work to end patriarchy,” she says. “The point is to eliminate privilege and my approach is, hey, you believe that this is the right thing to do.”

There is a detailed primer on language — don’t use “girls” for women aged 18 and over — and a mechanism to ensure everyone gets speaking and listening opportunities. “We want to make sure people aren’t re-experiencing oppression,” says Aurora.

Aurora’s workshops also teach men how to act when a sexist joke is made at a work party, how to talk to women at conferences without making them feel uncomfortable or tokenized, and how to take the currently en vogue unconscious-bias trainings that tech companies are enamored of from awareness to action. “Everything has been framed in terms of ‘what can women do to overturn sexism,’” Aurora says. “I have reframed it as ‘what can men do to stop sexism, because it is their responsibility.’” In that way, she remarks, her method is the “exact opposite of Lean In.”

Aurora’s services are available to companies at the fee of zero dollars to $10,000 a workshop, but she also keeps all of her materials accessible and free on her site.