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Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 11, 2013
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women?s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women?s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.
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Within a week of finishing it, I stood up to a male coworker who was minimizing and deflating everything I said in a meeting in front of my manager and colleagues. Pre book I probably would have just let it go and been deferential even though I knew I was right. I didn't back down on my position, but I remained calm and logical, and was still friendly. He on the other hand became angry and raised his voice. I asked him why he was becoming so emotional about he topic, and that question disarmed him completely. He said "you're right, I'm sorry." Later he came to my office and apologized again. I know he didn't like it, and I don't think his apology was sincere, but I know I at least gleaned some respect from him and my colleagues.
I later noticed in another meeting in which a female coworker and I were presenting, several male audience members kept interrupting us despite the fact that we were supposed to be teaching them the material. I finally stepped in and said "gentlemen, thanks for your insights but we're going to hold questions and comments until the end." They shut up.
I have finally recently been selected to attend a conference across the country with a select few other employees. I attribute this selection to my newfound confidence in my abilities and contributions to the organization, and I attribute that confidence to this book!
I think every working woman should read this (especially working mothers), and possibly more importantly, every manager, male or female, should read this book.
The best message to take from this book is to be aware of what is going on in the workplace. Take the opportunity to change the inequality. Don't wait for someone to "fix" things for you. When opportunities present themselves jump on them if it's what you want. Take control.
Lean In has a basic message for women - lean in! But what is leaning in? In broad strokes it is accepting that the structural limitations for success of women exist and empowering women who by giving them a blueprint for growth both inside and outside of the workplace. It is about setting boundaries and working towards a more equitable world.
There are twelve chapters, and they all speak an empowering truth that does not come across too much like a self-help book. In the introduction, Sandberg posits that we can have a more equal world, "one where women ran half of countries and companies and men ran half our homes" (Lean In 7). Chapter two speaks to the gap between college success and the amount of leaders in commerce and industry, which Sandberg inverts, saying that though there are the structural issues holding women back, there are in fact issues internal to women, in that there is a "Leadership Ambition Gap" (ibid 12). Though not included here in the book, this for me is well illustrated with one fact: "A recent McKinsey & Company study reported that internal research at Hewlett Packard found that women only applied to open positions if they felt they met 100 percent of the criteria, compared to only 60 percent for men." (Kenal) Men are not afraid to ask for a job even if they're not qualified because they think they can do the job or learn on the job. Women, conversely, opt out, since as Sandberg notes, "Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don't expect to achieve them and that becomes one of the reasons they don't." (22).
After Sandberg describes what she sees as the problem, she has some concrete advice that can be applied more generally. Chapter two, titled "Sit at the Table," encourages women to do just that. Generally, women might exclude themselves from conversation by sitting back even when they are invited to literally sit at the table (27). Charisma has an important role in leadership, and getting people to like you can be a difficult battle for anyone in the workplace. Chapter three focuses on the paradoxical nature of success for women. Studies have shown that successful men are often well liked. The converse is true for women. The more successful a woman is, people of both genders will like her less (40). This is, Sandberg posits, because there are so few women in powerful roles and their otherness makes them a source for scorn. She is hopeful though, for a time when more women have leaned in so that "If women held 50 of top jobs, it would not be possible to dislike that many people" (50). Chapter four emphasizes that there are many ways to the top by bringing a metaphor about a jungle gym to replace the common perception of a ladder. Chapter five focuses on mentorship, the importance of finding on the way up, and of being one once you are at the top. She notes the potential weakness of this because there are so many more men than women at the top, so mentorship as existing reinforces the old-boys network (71). Chapter six, "See and speak your truth exhorts women to not hold back in communication, but to be smart about it, so that "Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest" (78). So once you have joined your place at the table, you need to speak up.
Chapter seven, for me, is the heart of the book, mainly because I can relate to the situation. In "Don't Leave Before You Leave," Sandberg's message is simple - go full bore until you can no longer go. Take the opportunities that are presented to you and don't turn them away because of choices you might make in the future. Sandberg illustrates this well with a story of a women worried about work-life balance in the future with a child. The kicker being that the women was not even seeing anyone at the time (92). By disqualifying yourself because of these future decisions, you put yourself on the track to not have other opportunities in the future, ironically limiting your future options. Chapter eight focus on the home, making sure that your partner is a full participant at home. This has added benefits, as research shows that equality between partners leads to happier relationships (118). This is improving, since partnership is a micro-level issue that happens "one family at a time" and men of younger generations are more willing to be equitable partners (120). Chapter nine tries to break down the "Myth of Doing It All," where Sandberg recognizes that there are limits to how much one can do in the day when it comes to family, work, and personal time. She knows that you can't do everything and we should be able to accepts that "Done is better than perfect" (129) in terms of the accomplishing goals (a mantra I myself want to adopt). She tells a story of forgetting her son's green t-shirt on Saint Patrick's day to show that she herself can be fallible. The chapter closes with her definition of success: "Making the best choices we can...and accepting them" (139). The last two chapters are about naming the problem, starting a dialogue based on the recommendations in the book, and moving forward to creating a world where those fifty percent of companies and households are led by women in a more equal society. Importantly, Sandberg recognizes some of the limitations of leaning in, noting "I am fully aware that most women are not focused on changing social norms for the next generation but simply trying to get through each day" (169). Ultimately, the book is structured in a way that describes the problem, outlines solutions, and provides a way forward for people to make these changes. Thankfully, these are not those broad policy prescriptions that have no hope of being enacted, but instead they are actions most women can make so that they are not left behind.