My Lean In moment occurred 19 years ago and centered around “fake drinking.”
I had a new boss and was in my first management role; I was also recently pregnant with my first child. Since I worked with all men, I decided against sharing that information right away, and instead, was waiting for the right time to deliver the news. Meanwhile, I started to build relationships within the company and was excited when I was invited to join the boy’s club for dinner.
The dinner took place at a traditional steakhouse. Within minutes of my arrival, the men were in full swing: ordering appetizers, laughing and joking, and putting back stiff drinks. Given that I couldn’t drink, I debated my options. I could claim I was on a strict diet or taking medication and forgo the alcohol. I could also order a drink, yet never take any sips. My final option, of course, was telling them that I was pregnant.
As I weighed my choices, I realized what was most important to me: I wanted the team to view me as an equal. I knew if I could hold my own in this first dinner and make them feel comfortable, my job would be easier. I would hear their stories and learn how they processed information. I would also be able to add value to the conversation without having to highlight my personal life.
As everyone ordered another round of drinks, I pulled the waiter aside and said in a low voice, “When I order a vodka and soda, just bring me the soda.” He nodded and returned with my “secret” drink in hand. I became an expert in “fake drinking,” as I put back several perfectly disguised no-vodka-sodas that night. The dinner was a success, and I felt like I was initiated into the “club.”
Choosing to “fake drink” was the right decision for me, and an important rite of passage. While I know sharing my personal news during that first dinner would have gone over fine, the timing was off. Later, when the moment was right, I revealed my pregnancy and got a very positive reaction.
My career’s progression has been about fully leaning in to whatever environment I can. The men I worked with 19 years ago have since cheered me on, given me management awards, and encouraged me to excel as a leader. Our relationships have endured, I think, in part because I allowed myself to be comfortable with what information I shared and when.