Lean In Is Only Halfway There

03/19/2013 05:22 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2013

Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, sure has gotten some attention, hasn't it?

I applaud Sandberg and her willingness to step out and encourage women to seize the moment and take control of the things that are within their control.

But... (you knew that was coming) her book has glaring gaps.

And I'm not sure whether those gaps are due to naiveté on her part, or because she is out of touch with reality to a certain degree (as many others have suggested).

Here's the deal...

Sandberg's insights and ideas are not new. Conversations about women "coming into their own" have been occurring for decades. Literally.

When I accepted my first job with Brown & Williamson back in the early '80s, I was one of only two African Americans in their organization for the entire Alabama region. In fact, there were very few women in general in any positions (let alone positions of power). I remember sitting in my living room with the women directors in my area (I was a brand manager at that point). And we had the exact conversations Sandberg refers to:

"Is it us? Is it the system? What is it? How do we change it?" And we wanted the success -- we had the "will to lead." We knew we could run that business, but no one would let us. We didn't have access, sponsors, culture -- nothing and no one was ready to embrace us as the leaders.

And here we are 30 years later, still asking those same questions and dealing with the same issues. Which leads me to the gaps.

The Gaps

Sandberg is halfway there with her "lean in" concept. But there is much left to cover -- many gaps left to fill in.

For example, she offered no recommendations on how to address the systemic issues that hold women back (i.e., negative biases, parental responsibilities, caring for aging parents, etc.).

Women have been trying (and trying... and trying) to "come into their own" for decades. But those systemic issues (such as being expected to take on male leadership traits, or the bias that women "can't handle the pressure") are just as real as the woman who chooses to step away because she doesn't believe that she can have -- and do -- it all.

And Then There's the Glaring Gap

Women of color.

How disappointing that one of the most powerful women in the world is only willing to touch half of the story -- half of the truth. Nowhere does Sandberg take into consideration the unique challenges that women of color face in corporate America today.

As a woman of color who has been laser-focused on leveraging my skills and competencies to make it in corporate America for the past 30 years, I can tell you from personal experience that: without access to the right opportunities, without the right sponsors to open the right doors, and without the right support, it is damn near impossible for a woman of color to just "make it happen."

And that has been despite the fact that I have "the will to lead." And my soul burns -- yearns, even -- for equality.

If we all lived in a bubble and were billionaires, then it would be easy to call from the mountaintop to others to "just do it." That's just like saying, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps."

Come on! It is 2013, for heaven's sake.

If all it took was "the will to lead," don't you think we'd have more than 4.2 percent women as Fortune 500 CEOs? Or more than 20 percent women at the top levels of Fortune 500 companies (CEO and direct reports)?

If it were that easy, we'd absolutely have more than four women of color Fortune 500 CEOs (that is 0.8 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs -- 0.8 percent!).

Women face blockers -- completely outside of their control -- every single day. And women of color face them (in double and triple doses) every single minute.

Sandberg's book does bring attention back around to those old conversations by reigniting a new one. And that is good. But if she wants to start a movement then she must touch the whole truth -- not just half of it.

It's not enough to lean in. We must move forward.

We all have been trying to advance the conversation, so let's find our collective voice and move the needle forward. Let's not just talk and settle for conversations. Rather, let's strive for systemic changes. Let's demand results and true equality for women.

May history mark our contributions as paving the way for the next generation of women... and all who come behind us.