Lean In event asks women “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Posted on Oct 8 2013 - 8:57am by Leah Traxel, Online Editor

The ambiguous title of Monday’s led to some creative discussion about fear and empowerment among women.

The panel and discussion was part of a series inspired by the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Hosted by the Women’s Center, the event featured four female faculty members from across campus who shared their stories of fear and how they deal with it.

Originally based on a TED Talk by author Sheryl Sandberg, the book looks at how differing attitudes between the genders can be responsible for the achievement gap. These attitudes range from making career choices based on family plans that are years from coming true, to sitting away from the table at a meeting rather than at it. In the book’s first chapter, Sandberg investigates how fear can prevent women from realizing their goals.

At PLU’s event, these fears ranged from professional to personal. For Registrar Kristin Plaehn, fear is what she feels when she attends CrossFit and doesn’t want to be embarrassed. Ksenija Simic-Muller said she worries that between her home life and her career, she doesn’t have enough time or energy to devote to herself.

The conversation also included stories of how faculty members have faced comments and attitudes that reflect gender stereotypes. For instance, Simic-Muller was once asked how it felt “knowing you probably only got into grad school because you’re a woman.”

Assistant Professor of Religion Agnes Choi said she cares less about how people judge her likability and more about how they judge her competence.

“I care if people respect me,” Choi said, who frequently finds herself in male-dominated conferences and events as a Biblical scholar. “And if they don’t respect me, then I think it says more about the person having that reaction than it says about me.”

The women emphasized though, that fear isn’t always a negative emotion.

“It affected my career for sure,” Professor Lynn Hunnicutt said, who credits her fear of college-level physics with her decision to pursue economics studies instead of engineering. “But not all effects are bad.”

The other panelists agreed and mentioned that it’s important to listen to your gut instinct when applicable, even when it tells you not to do something.

“You don’t know how things are going to play out,” Choi said.

The next event in the series — titled “Does everyone have to like you?” — will take place Nov. 18.

Here is Sheryl Sandberg’s original TED Talk from 2011.

1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Jane Harty October 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm -

    I did not go to the “Lean in” workshop at PLU because women contingent faculty “leaned in” to try to get better working conditions at PLU, and other women faculty pushed back. Although this is certainly not just a “women’s issue,” it is remarkable that women faculty are among the those who pushed the hardest against our efforts to either become part of faculty governance or to form a union.