Leaning Out in higher education: A structural, postcolonial perspective

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A new kind of gender equality ideology is rising in popularity in Western societies. While emphasising gender equality for the next generation, this new ideology sees feminism in a pragmatic and simplistic way, as nonthreatening to the status quo, in politics, popular culture, and economy. In the economic sphere, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” has become well known for aiming to guide women to succeed alongside men in the workplace by changing their behaviours and attitudes. Its recommendations for women have impacted perspectives in the non- rofit and start-up worlds, arts, and more. However, there are some limitations to the kind of feminist thinking exemplified by Lean In. This article critically examines Lean In as a discourse or ideology in relation to higher education within and outside Western societies. I argue first that such ideology employs a deficiency model of gender equality that makes women accountable for sexism by focusing on internal rather than external change. Second, I argue that such discourses essentialize gender. Third, I argue that it is not easy to translate the advice given to women across international contexts, as Lean In reflects cultural conceptions of the workplace. Copyright © 2017 Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-308
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


Jackson, L. (2017). Leaning Out in higher education: A structural, postcolonial perspective. Policy Futures in Education, 15(3), 295-308. doi: 10.1177/1478210317708496


  • Critical race theory
  • Gender
  • Higher education
  • Identity
  • Postcolonial theory


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