What I Am Reading: Lean In

Mar 26 2013 Published by under What I'm Reading, Women as leaders

I finally crawled out from under a rock (also known as the inpatient service) and heard everyone talking about Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, I first encountered negative reviews, but then found some raving about the book. That left only one logical course of action: download and read!

Click for link on Amazon

First, some agreement with the naysayers. Sheryl Sandberg, a highly educated C-suite officer for Facebook, speaks from a position of incredible privilege. She has connections and a lifestyle of which most of us can only dream. The story about finding her daughter's head lice on a company jet was not exactly the situation most of us face with the pesky pests. Her advice to lean in to our careers must read like a weird fantasy to the average employed woman, someone worried about paying rent rather than achieving loftier goals. Her view is very first-world-centric as well; for the most part, the women to which she writes have basic human rights raising them above the level of property. She notes this early in the book:

But knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better. When the suffragettes marched in the streets, they envisioned a world where men and women would be truly equal. A century later, we are still squinting, trying to bring that vision into focus.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (p. 5). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now that I have acknowledged that issue, we can move on to why I loved this book. I see so many women leaning back rather than into their work, giving up on goals before they have to make a choice. Sandberg describes the same situation, including discussions about raising a family with a woman who does not have a life partner nor is ready to reproduce! Those of us who have made it to senior ranks with spouse and children often get into this conversation.

Chapter 5 particularly hit home, entitled "Are You My Mentor?" Someone decided mentorship was the missing key to success for women, but many women seem to be in an ongoing quest for this person:

...searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty,” which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (p. 66). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There are those who argue that we must abolish institutional barriers that hold all women back, things like unequal pay and societal sexism. Others argue that breaking down the glass ceiling will promote those changes. Why not do both?

Sandberg hopes to inspire another wave of feminism to combat inequality. LeanIn.org encourages women to form LeanIn Circles:

We often achieve more in groups than we do as individuals. Lean In Circles put this idea into practice.

Circles are small groups that meet regularly to share and learn together—like a book club focused on helping members achieve their goals. Lean In provides an online space that makes it easy for your Circle to get organized and stay connected.

Your Circle is yours. We encourage you to decide what works for your group. If you prefer structure, our Circle Kits include everything you need to run a successful Circle. You can also find the right people and figure out things as you go.'

A variety of tools on the site will help small groups come together to discuss equality. As we learn together and talk, we can bridge some of what divides us.

Let's all lean in to all aspects of our lives.

One response so far

  • chall says:

    I think the circle idea is good, the problem is finding it and keeping it going. I mean, it does sound more like "old-school golfing friends/any other tight-nit group of successful males". It is about networking and finding support from others with whom you identify. (Although that might sound pretentious?)

    I know that my girl friends from high school - we're a group of 5 - had a lot of helpfrom eachother when we met regularily during and after university when we all tried to find jobs and thinking/planning families etc. It might not have been ideal as in the book but as a "accountability and suggestion cirlce" it was good.

    It's true though, that the idea that "someone else will help you" only works if you start with "I'm responsible for finding these people who together with me will move me forward". Although, I'm sure that Sandberg had great help from her mentor to rise to the level where she was picked to facebook. Doesn't mean it's the only way though.

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