Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of "LEAN IN - Women, Work and the Will to Lead"

My first reaction to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “LEAN IN – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” was, I’ve read this before. Back in the late 1970s, I had just gotten out of Wharton with an MBA and was starting my first job in the corporate world. Anxious to prove myself in what was then truly a man’s world, I read book after book on how to negotiate corporate politics and get ahead. That’s why Sandberg’s words were sounding so familiar.  

But as I read on, I realized that Sandberg had a lot of good advice to impart to whole new generations of women and girls who hadn't read the books I had. She also rebutted some of the advice I had followed -- like trying to act like a man. Even better, she delivered much of it by telling stories from her own life and by giving tips from other women of achievement. Thank goodness for the human touch and the humor she has injected, like trying to quickly get to the far end of the parking lot at Google when she was pregnant or attempting to hide the fact that she was leaving at a normal hour to see her kids.

I loved that she started to wake up and just ask for special parking spots for pregnant workers and that she felt she could have a personal life and a chance to be home for dinner. At the same time, I was thinking about how tough the corporate world is on both men and women. Look at how Marissa Mayer has issued an edict that everyone must now work at the office. Face time still seems to matter as much as it did in the last century.

There is a mixed message however. In some cases Sandberg is teaching women to be more true to their feminine selves. In other cases, she is urging women and girls to have more spine, more confidence and ambition and be less true to their female cultural training. She is telling them not to be too nice and self-effacing and to grab the opportunities when they happen. She quotes Eric Schmidt telling her, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” Eric's statement made her take the job offer from Google.

But as an older person who left the corporate fold to start my own business and raise my kids without someone clocking me in or judging me, I began to wonder: Is rising to the top of a large institution really the best way to define success? It clearly is for Sheryl Sandberg. But I would bet it’s not for many women and men, particularly today where loyalty and hard work are not necessarily rewarded by large institutions of any kind. Plus, it's really expensive to rise to the top. You have to invest time, your personal self, and lots of money to get there. That takes a tremendous amount of gumption and willpower. But it's also expensive to drop out and raise kids. (I don't really like the way Sheryl bashes well-educated women who do raise kids and volunteer their time. Nonprofits need volunteers desperately. And there's nothing wrong with doing good -- or investing in your family --  in my opinion.)

Still, Lean In is worth reading, if for no other reason than to wake yourself up to the fact that the world of work is still not fair and that women still do not have equality. 

The answer to how to achieve equality, however, is not totally answered in the book. But if you want to rise in government, academia or in someone else’s business, Sandberg’s advice is quite good. 

In fact, I’ve found myself giving similar advice many times to both my daughter and my son as they grow in their chosen careers: You have to ask for raises. You have to ask for promotions. You have to negotiate good deals for yourself.  You have to toot your own horn. It’s just harder for women to do these things and not be criticized for it. Sandberg says, never mind. Take your place at the table.  

You can learn more of the Lean In philosophy at the Lean In organization:  http://leanin.org/
Listen to Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for an insightful critique of this book Wyn. As you can imagine the content set off quite a maelstrom here in Silicon Valley when it first came out.
Like you, I sit on both sides of this table. I am fully aware of the struggles of women in the workplace and applaud the author's willingness to say the things that need to be said.
Yet I get insulted that the stay at home (volunteer) mom gets no respect. I feel that there are just as many (emotional and monetary) sacrifices made, and that the job is equally as difficult.
I find myself wondering if there will ever come a day when women are truly valued for what we accomplish in all aspects of our lives. I wonder if things will ever get easier for our daughters and the generations of women to follow?