Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
by Lisa Bernier
Lean In is a book that not only women should read, but men should as well. As I told my husband, father, cousin, friend, and a random man next to me on the subway once I finished the last chapter.
Seriously, guys. Read it.
Sandberg, who is currently the COO of Facebook, has written a 21st century feminist tome at a time when the word, “feminist” can sometimes be used as either a joke, a cliche or an irrelevance. A great update on the issues women face in the workforce, as well as a call for women to put themselves forward for positions of leadership, it hit a chord with me: not so much due to the external situations it addresses, but the internalizations that women possess that keep themselves from moving forward.
The book is divided into eleven simple chapters, with titles like “Success and Likeability, “ “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder,” and “The Myth of Doing It All.” Sandberg writes in a clear, informative style without being dry. She also fully acknowledges that she has had socio-economic advantages that other women, especially single mothers, do not necessarily have the ability to access.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t so much the outside environmental obstacles that a clearly successful working woman faced that struck a chord: it was the internal ones. Sandberg argues that women in our society face the pressure to be liked rather than be successful (the opposite for men), and not only do they face societal confirmation of this (for instance, a woman boss is often viewed as a “bitch” but a man as a “leader”), but they hold themselves back because they have internalized it.
When Sandberg was speaking of how she often criticize herself, and how she never had the confidence she would see in her male friends, relatives and associates, I felt like she and I were speaking with the same voice. When she talked about how she would belittle her own accomplishments (whether she deserved them or not), I nodded my head in agreement (how often do I find criticism to be the truth, but praise to be excused as being liked, or false?).
Sandberg did address how the workplace, even today, has a long way to go in coming to terms with accommodating women (and men, damnit), many of whom have children. For instance, when she was at Google, they did not have preferred pregnancy parking until she asked for it (once pregnant). A simple, obvious thing, but one Google and many companies have overseen. She also cited an example where she and many other head business associates were at a dinner, and every time a man asked a question, the main speaker would listen and respond, but when a woman would, she would be shushed.
Still, it seems that many women (myself included) don’t put themselves forth for positions of leadership--and ironically, initiative is what is looked for in leaders. Women, from the time they are very young, are taught to please rather than to assert themselves. For a girl to be “bossy” is never a compliment, while bossy boys are often indulged and celebrated as future presidents and CEOs.
Not only illuminating for a woman to read, but an insight for men into what it’s REALLY like to be a woman in a competitive, XY chromosome driven world, Lean In should be required reading for both sexes. It’s worth the time for a woman to look at herself and her everyday attitudes differently, and for men to think twice before asking the female intern in their office to sort and organize file drawers of color while the boy intern gets to program the lightboard (and yes, that did happen to me once).
Lisa Bernier is a writer based in NYC. When she's not typing away, you can probably find her by locating the nearest dog park, and there she will be, ogling all the cute dogs. She also occasionally does an Improv scene. Follow her @pilrimkim on Twitter.