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.
A million blog posts and articles have been written about this book, that discuss the underlying issues of gender and women in the workplace, that address those issues that I ever could. As young female at the beginning of her career, this is one of the better career advice books I’ve read. To begin, this book is not: (1) written to represent All Women (2) a memoir (3) an inside look at Facebook.
So, with that out of the way, what I liked about this book is that Sandberg did two things. First, she acknowledged the subtle gender biases against women in the workplace, and discussed how they need to change. But then, she did something more important. She acknowledged that these are not things that change over night, or within 5 years – they’ll change over the course of 50 years. It’s difficult to implement an overnight change that alters the way both men and women are socialized to expect women to behave. So, secondly, she gives concrete examples of subtle bias women might face in the workplace, and how you can use that information to your advantage to get ahead.
Advocating for change in the workplace once you have the power is important.
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