Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg

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Book Description (Amazon): 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.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: motivating

I definitely found this book to be worthwhile. I like the candor with which Sandberg writes her stories. I definitely related to nearly all the book—if not directly myself, with others around me in the workplace (or in life). The book is structured so that each chapter is essentially its own topic, so I will sort of go through them one by one.

1. The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

This chapter is a discussion into why women (girls too as most children show this propensity) don’t have the ambition to be leaders. There are a lot of possibilities for this which Sandberg alludes to in various anecdotes including that women are always set up for it (Smart like Daddy. Pretty like Mommy.) or that women are afraid of being disliked (don’t want to be called “aggressive” or “bossy”) or that women give up on leadership because it’s too difficult to be a working mother or they have been burnt out from years of inequity. In the end though, Sandberg makes the point that while all of these things contribute to the issues, the real issue is that women often don’t “lean in” and lead because they are too afraid.

2. Sit at the Table

The main point of this chapter was that women are afraid to “sit at the table”. Seems obvious. But women are more likely to sit on the fringe of the meeting than feel justified to sit at the table with the men. This is related to the fact that women are more likely to put down or undermine their accomplishments. They are also less likely to take on new positions (citing that they are not qualified or need more time in their current position), and they are less likely to ask questions in class. I have the tendency to sit on the fringe of meetings—although I would like to think that I only do that when the meetings only sort of relate to me. I did learn as a child to accept my accomplishments. I had a teacher who instilled that into me claiming that most smart students tend to hide their intelligence to “fit in”. She was one of the best teachers I had. I think that everyone (male and female), needs to learn how to graciously accept and promote their accomplishments. Don’t make excuses. Just say thank you when someone compliments you. Take credit for your work and good ideas.  Take an opportunity when it is given to you. Also the “fake it until you make it” is a good suggestion. You can fake confidence, and there are times when you should. (Never did Sandberg go into the situation that I had at work where you never are provided an opportunity but you see it offered to all the men around you…but that’s another story. Perhaps I should write my own book.)

3. Success and Likeability

For the most part, this chapter annoyed me. Maybe it’s because I have a very blasé opinion of being liked. Frankly, I don’t care if people like me or not. I try to be true to myself and not phony and inevitably, there will be others with whom I become friends. I think it’s a skill that more people should have. And really, it’s like that fable of the old man, young man, and the donkey. You can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try. You just need to be true to yourself and be able to justify your actions. However, the research that was provided about Heidi vs. Harold really blew my mind and really made me disappointed in society. In 2003, a Columbia Business School professor gave his class a case about an entrepreneur and the class was to determine how capable and likeable (as a colleague) the entrepreneur would be. However, the twist was that in half the class, the entrepreneur was named Heidi. In the other half, he was Harold. On the positive, both were deemed to be equally competent. However, Harold was much more likeable. Heidi came off as “selfish”. Not cool.

4. It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder

For the most part, I think this chapter is pretty obvious. You need to be willing to take lateral moves or potentially downward moves to get to the position that you want. The position needs to have a potential for growth and sometimes you reach the top rung of your “ladder” and there is nowhere to go but over. Sometimes there is a better opportunity out there, or sometimes the position that you are in isn’t right for you. It’s ok to change. Change is good. I do like the idea of the 18 month plan. I stopped setting extremely long term goals a while back and started setting goals for about a 5 year plan. That way I am able to work on something to get me to that next position. If I change my mind about what I want to do in 5 years, then I just adjust my path. It works better for me and makes it less overwhelming. The chapter can be summarized by this: taking risks, choosing growth, challenging ourselves, and asking for promotions are important elements in managing a career.

5. Are You My Mentor?

This chapter surprised me in a way that I didn’t expect to be surprised. I have been one to lament the fact that I do not have a mentor at work. Sandberg suggests that many women probably do have mentors but it is not necessary to have someone who is officially “your mentor”. Usually the mentor chooses the mentee and while it is a compliment to ask someone to be your mentor, it puts them in a really uncomfortable position. Perhaps they don’t have the time and then have to turn you down. Luckily I never went so far as to ask someone to be my mentor, but I know now that I at least have a few people who I could count as mentors, even if they don’t know it. I do wish Sandberg had also discussed role models along with this but alas, she did not.

6. Seek and Speak Your Truth

This chapter is kind of a “duh!” chapter in that the main point is that effective communication is a big deal. Well, obviously. However, Sandberg gives some good examples of it and also shows how companies can alter their communication channels to be friendlier to women. For example, many men are reluctant to have “closed door conversations” with women. This is harmful to women’s career growth since in many cases, the higher ups are men. Adjustments need to be made to handle this more fairly so that it stops being the “good old boys’ club”. A few other key points—sometimes effective communication involves more listening than speaking. It’s OK to show emotion at work and talk about the tough issues. You can’t ever fully leave your personal life at home. Your brain doesn’t work that way.

7. Don’t Leave Before You Leave

Basically don’t plan your whole life when you don’t know where it is going to take you. Sandberg reveals story after story of women forgoing fulfilling careers and job opportunities within their own careers because one day, they might have a family. I agree that I have always thought about this in the back of my mind, but recently I have stopped thinking about it at all. I figure if I change my mind and decide to have children, I will worry about it then. And we will figure it out—both my husband and me.

8. Make Your Partner a Real Partner

My husband loved this chapter. Ok he hasn’t read the book (yet) but I sent him the statistic that said “The risk of divorce lessens by half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.” He asked me if that was a threat. I then proceeded to tell him that men with mothers who stayed home were less likely to help with the housework. I said I was pulling my end of the bargain. Didn’t he care about our marriage? (I am joking. My husband helps with the chores and the cats and my mental sanity! He’s great.) Basically, Sandberg is encouraging you to have a partner who is also your champion. I think that’s a good goal for anyone.

9. The Myth of Doing It All

Sandberg references the section in Bossy Pants where Tina Fey is constantly asked how she manages it all. Basically Sandberg and Fey come up with the same conclusions. You prioritize and you manage what you want. You may not know the names of every kid in your child’s class, but your children have their homework done and are dressed for school. Stop being a perfectionist. No one has to do it all.

10. Let’s Start Talking About It

Ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away. We need to be feminists and embrace that word. Feminism isn’t evil. It’s working towards equality for all. A lot of times, these gender issues are so ingrained into peoples’ subconscious that they don’t even realize that they are doing them. It’s important to bring those to people’s attention in a way that will promote change. This may be the (second) most important point in the book, but I think it’s also the most difficult (but I think it still can and needs to be done).

11. Working Together Toward Equality

Yes, yes, a billion times yes!!! Women need to step it up and start enabling each other, and start appreciating our differences. Who cares if you’re a stay at home mom, or a career woman, or both, or something different than any of those. We aren’t all the same, so we shouldn’t be treated the same. What works for me probably doesn’t work for you (and vice versa). And building upon that, when you have the opportunity to help another woman, for goodness sake, do it! Our future depends upon it.

Verdict: 4 stars

I asked for this book for my birthday because the library had about 300 holds on the copies that they have of it. So you know that you’re on to something notable. I think Sandberg did a good job presenting a non-fiction book of a sticky topic that got you excited but not so frustrated (aka she showed examples of inequity alongside examples where women were successful). She is honest and frank about her own shortcomings and successes (although I’m not sure she fully takes her own advice from Ch. 2 on this) which I think makes her relatable. At the same time though, it’s not an epic story with a lot of new information. And there are some questions of her narrowcasting a bit based on her own experience. But the fact that the book is popular and she is getting people talking about these issues easily warrants 4 stars in my book. It definitely gave me some things to think about with regards to my own career. (Also, I loved the story about the working mom forgetting to pack her kids’ lunch and ordering a pizza to be sent to their school. Best.Mom.Ever.)

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