When a male friend suggested Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for our couples book club, I immediately went on the defensive. I knew very little about the book, but like a lot of readers, I had my mind made up before the book was even released. Who was Sandberg, a privileged, rich executive, to write about what it’s like to be a working mother?
I was wrong.
I thought this book was insightful, smart, well written, even self-deprecating. I still think Sandberg, by nature of her position and her wealth, can’t completely identify with a typical working parent, but even she admits that. What she can do is present a compelling argument why it’s crucial we address the working parent Catch 22 – the workplace needs to be more accommodating to working parents (not just mothers) so more working parents can remain employed, but more working parents need to stay in the workforce in order to vocalize the need for the flexibility.
I’m not going to critique her proposal in this review. That’s a different story for a different time. And regardless of what you think of her ideas, I think you have to agree the book is well written, thoroughly researched and documented, and provocative. It’s a quick read too.
If one indication of a good book is how much you talk about it with your friends, colleagues or peers, Lean In would surely meet that criterion. Try discussing it with your spouse over a cocktail or bring it up in your next office happy hour and see if it doesn’t get people talking and sharing opinions.
I think when I first heard about Lean In (2013) by Sheryl Sandberg, all I knew was that it had something to do with feminism, and that it might be controversial. I learned that Sandberg was high up in the business world. Now that I’ve just changed careers and turned my back on the business world, I wondered what Sandberg could say that would relate to me. Discussions of corporations bore me to death, and I have no interest in working in an office environment. But I’m a sucker for well-known, controversial books because I like to make up my own mind about things and the only way to do that is to read it myself.
So, I read it, enjoyed it, and didn’t see much of anything to be upset about. Sandberg discusses where women stand in the world in terms of leadership positions and financial compensation. She discusses factors that have kept women from real equality. She also includes a lot of anecdotes from her own experience, which were interesting because she’s held so many high-power positions. I thought Sandberg gave practical, inclusive advice that was much more useful to me than I would have imagined. She came across as honest and straight forward. I especially liked the many studies she cites to illustrate some of the challenges women face that we might not even think about.
-Studies have shown that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is. (29)
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The woman of Sheryl Sandberg’s world is a timid creature. She’s smart but not savvy, ambitious but afraid to appear so, confident and driven but plagued by self-doubt. She’s wary of participating in meetings, wary of asking for promotions, wary of taking on new assignments. And don’t even get me started on motherhood—this woman has been ruminating on the work/life balance basically since she learned where babies come from.
For this woman, Sandberg has a wealth of advice, which in its entirety boils down to the central conceit of her book: Lean In. This woman—this hyper-sensitive, underutilized and challenge-averse woman—needs to stop sitting in the back row at meetings, stop taking flak from colleagues, and stop turning down opportunities because she’s unsure about her abilities. She needs to build organic and mutually beneficial relationships with coworkers, and worry less about being liked and more about being respected. She needs to speak her mind with colleagues and bosses, and if and when she decides to throw a bun in the oven, not start sacrificing her career the second she realizes she’s pregnant. She could also stand to snag an understanding, supporitve and equally driven husband, who won’t hesitate to pitch in on 50% of the child-rearing and housework. In short, Sheryl Sandberg wants this woman to sack up (which, incidentally, would have been a way better book title.) Continue reading