Book review: Lean In

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

Book description: Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates of 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.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

My review: When I first approached this book, I was actually really reluctant to read it. I was encouraged by several friends who read it and loved it, so I decided to go for it. My reluctance came from a feeling I had that I was going to be judged by Sandberg – somehow, through this book, she would make me feel unworthy for having chosen to stay at him with my kids. She didn’t make me feel this way at all, though; in fact, she goes out of her way to speak to how every choice a woman makes is valid. The rest of what she said was just as awesome as well.

One of my favourite points she brings up is how feminism has become a dirty word, and most women who staunchly believe in the principles of feminism (to be treated as an equal no matter your gender) demure when asked if they were a feminist. No one wants to be a man-hating harpy, right? But the danger of this attitude is that it really does diminish what has already been achieved, and some of what we kind of take for granted. Nobody’s saying be a man-hating harpy, but there is nothing wrong with proudly saying you believe both sexes to be equal and should be treated as such. This also speaks to the idea that women are often worse to other women professionally then men, since other women were often viewed as competition, not just for men but for positions of power as well. This no longer is the case, or at the very least shouldn’t be the case, particularly as more women get into positions of power. If women instead spent their vast collaborative energy supporting one another, Sandberg thinks women would go a lot further in coming into their place in leadership roles.

Another interesting point that I felt affected me personally is the idea that paying for child care is an investment into your career and future. I, like many women, saw that my take-home salary was very similar to what child care would cost me, and it was a factor in deciding to stay at home (not the only one, or even the most important one, but still). But the fact is that down the road if you stay in your career, you will likely be making more than what you are now, so by staying in the work force you will end up a lot better off than if you drop out, even factoring in the rather exorbitant cost of child care.

Her very concept of leaning in comes from her observation that women often start to cut back on the work and responsibility they take on long before they have children, as they are planning to have children one day. But this will generally lead to a job that is not as enjoyed as much as one where they jumped in headfirst without trying to hold themselves back. Women in careers they enjoy and find satisfying/challenging are far more likely to go back to work after kids, so by handicapping your career before the kids ever come, you are also ensuring it be less likely to return to the work force at all.

I also liked some of the practical advice she gave, such as how women can go about asking for a raise or promotion. Women are often chided for not asking for these benefits enough; however, women are also generally penalized for asking for these benefits, so it becomes a lose-lose. Sandberg has ways of getting around these challenges, while conceding it’s not exactly fair that women need to behave differently than men in order to be heard or receive an earned reward. She is very upfront about how the system isn’t perfect, but the important thing is that women step up to the plate and pursue their career with all their energy.

Word of the day:

Perambulation: to walk through, about, or over; travel through; to traverse in order to examine or inspect

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