10 Years Later, Here’s One Thing ‘Lean In’ Left Out

By Sallie Krawcheck

Later this week is the 10th anniversary of the publication of “Lean In.” I’m willing to bet we’ll be reading a lot of “then-vs-nows.” They’ll compare where women were in 2013 — when, in a mass “I want to be like Sheryl” moment, we bought 4.2 million copies of the book and joined “Lean In” circles in droves — versus where we are in 2023.

In that decade, we’ve cycled through a lot of excitement, a lot of confidence, a lot of asking for raises, a lot of exhausting work, a lot of leaning in — all leading to some pretty mixed results. At best.

There have been a couple “two steps forward” moments since then: The share of women CEOs in the S&P 500 in 2012 was an abysmal 4%. Today it’s a better — but still way-too-low — 8.2%.

There have been a fair share of “no steps forward,” too: The gender pay gap was $0.82 to a white man’s dollar in 2013; it’s still $0.82 today. The share of venture funding that went to women CEOs was 2.7% in 2011-2013; it’s 2% today. As for mandated paid parental leave in the US: We didn’t have it then, and we don’t have it now.*

And then there were the heartbreaking “multiple steps back.” The reversal of women’s reproductive rights. The pandemic, during which so much of the financial and familial pressure was borne by women. And the loss of the optimism and sense of progress and inevitability that came with TimesUp and the Women’s March, both of which have since folded or faltered.

Overall, not a great decade for women. And an even worse decade for the women “Lean In” left out, like those who live paycheck to paycheck. 

Frankly, it’s been exhausting. 

Now, look, I’m all for working hard and advocating for yourself. But my best career advice to the women who made “Lean In” such a bestseller can’t be found anywhere in the pages of the book. 

It’s to invest. 

That’s because investing has historically been a means to build wealth — whereas one’s salary has not. Because investing takes far less effort than leaning in. (And by “far less,” I mean a literal tiny fraction of the time.) And because investing can’t get derailed by a boss who didn’t listen during the unconscious bias training class, by a partner who unconsciously undermines you, by a family that requires your care, by the fact that you couldn’t find the right mentor, by a company that doesn’t have a budget for raises, by a society that can still feel uncomfortable with assertive women. 

(“But Sallie,” you might be thinking. “‘Lean In’ is about building a successful career, and investing isn’t.” To that, I’d counter: Does the freedom that building wealth can afford you — to get out of a terrible job, for example, or start your dream business — count as “helping your career”? I’d say definitely.)

Let’s do a thought experiment. Just for fun.

Say, over the past decade, you were making $75K per year and leaning right on in. Today, you’re, on average, making $90K (given that wages increased by 2–3% on average annually, and that the gender wage gap remains the same). If you saved 10% of that per year, we estimate that today you would have ~$95K in the bank.

Not bad. 

But if you had invested that money in the stock market instead (in this case, the Nasdaq), you would have $176K

With some market ups and downs for sure, but nearly twice as much, and the stock market did the hard work. 

Now, also just for fun, let’s take the, oh, let’s call it about $84 million that was spent on the “Lean In” book (assuming the average price was $20) ten years ago, and invest it in the stock market back then instead.

That $84 million would be worth $352 million today. More than a 4x increase. 

That’s 4x even when the gender pay gap didn’t budge, when wage growth was anemic, and when women took some societal hits. It’s 4x even with the tough market of last year, and the pandemic, and inflation.

You wouldn’t have guessed that, would you?

A bar graph charting the difference in multiple statistics between 2013, when Lean In was published, and today. Statistics include women’s pay (vs a man’s $1), women CEOs in the S&P 500, VC funding to women CEOs, and $1 invested in Nasdaq. A footnote reads, '10 years ago is indexed to 1 and 'Today' represents the change in value for each category.

While investing entails risk — and past returns are by no means guarantees of future returns — the underlying growth and strength of the economy, and the power of money compounding on itself, have meant that long-term investors in the stock market have been rewarded. In fact, pick any 10-year period since 1926, and you’d have seen positive returns 95% of the time. Pick any 15-year period, and that number climbs to 99.8%. 

Of course, you don’t have to choose between making moves at work or investing. Of course, you can have both. You work for you at work, while your money works for you by investing.

Gloria Steinem has noted that a missed opportunity of the feminist movement of the 1970s was their failure to consider wealth-building as a major goal. It’s not a real stretch to imagine how different — and how much richer, in all senses of the word — we would be, individually and collectively, if women had more wealth. 

The best time to start investing is always yesterday — and with us having so far yet to go, the 10th anniversary of “Lean In” is as good a moment as any to get to fixing that.

Sallie Krawcheck Signature


And the fact that it got close — but was stopped by a single white man in Congress — doesn’t make it any better. It makes it sting even more.

© 2023 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sources for the data represented in the bar graph in this article are as follows: the gender pay gap; Women CEOs in the S&P 500, VC money to women CEOs between 2011 and 2013, VC money to women CEOs in 2022, and $1 invested in Nasdaq in 2013 is now worth $4.04.

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Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the Founder & CEO of Ellevest.