Monday, July 15, 2013

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

This book has gotten a ton of press lately, and I am impressed with the dialogues it has instigated but surprised and annoyed by the backlash. Ms. Sandberg is just a few years older than me so I really identified with her experiences and her struggles, barring the struggle to balance kids and a job, although I have certainly seen my friends struggle with it and remember my mother going back to work well.

When I was in college in the early 1990s, like Ms. Sandberg, I was reluctant to call myself a feminist (I decided I was a "humanist" since I was interested in equality for all, including for men to be able to more easily do "women's work" but that was really splitting hairs) and I thought the battles for women's rights were over. I was wrong. And now that I have read Ms. Sandberg's book, I realize that despite thinking I have been ambitious and stubborn and have gotten pretty far in my career, I do now realize that I too have been guilty of doing things to sabotage my own career, including not speaking up, sitting in the back of the room or not at the table, and not volunteering for new opportunities but instead waiting for someone to bring them to me. And I thought I was good at this sort of thing! I am not exactly a wilting violet.

Ms. Sandberg's career is impressive, and yes she has had some good luck (although since I define good luck as the moment where preparation meets timing, you can see that luck is largely of our own making) and good contacts (which we are all capable of cultivating more of). I am dismayed by the trashing of her, particularly by women. Before I read the book I heard a lot of people accuse her of saying all women should go back to work (which she pointedly does not say, although she may wish it were, she acknowledges those decisions and that women should be supported in doing so) regardless of income, background, and work circumstances (she most definitely does not say this!) And they all seem to harp on the fact that she has a nanny and the income to easily afford a ton of help. And that is true - and she also mentioned in the book she expected to be called out on that - but what these critics ignore is that she has worked her butt off to be in a position that has that level of income and support. She doesn't come from money. It is her actual paychecks that she uses to pay for the help, and she got those by working (and networking) her way up and so how is that unfair or unattainable?

I think all women do need to be more conscious of how we hold ourselves back, and we need to put ourselves out there more. In the last few years, I started a chapter of the Women's National Book Association in Charlotte, started my own editorial business, and was elected Vice-President/President Elect of WNBA National. I am trying to network like crazy, and I feel very accomplished. But I can still be intimidated by powerful people and am nervous doing things like raising my rates and giving bad news to clients, that I feel men don't worry about. I am going to work on those.

Meanwhile, I am going to give this book to all the female college students that I meet through my college's career center, as her advice would have been so much more valuable when I was first starting out. Ms. Sandberg is inspiring, optimistic, and makes me want to do better. All women should read this book. So should all men but the ones who will are the ones who are already on our team.

Also, I listened to it on audio, which was great. The reader was open and casual and had a friendly tone, which helped.

I downloaded this audiobook from Audible.


Booksnyc said...

I am definitely going to listen to this one - I saw her on 60 mins lately and was impressed by her commentary and the story of her career. Thanks for the review!

Hindi Jokes said...

I finished reading this book, and thought i must review this as well..This book talks about the essential work life balance techniques in an inspiring yet funny way.. Sheryl Sandberg, being one of the most successful women in the business world, shares how she as a woman balances her family and work.. With the assistance of hard data that she provides, its simple to understand and stays in our minds long after finishing it. And mostly, while reading the book, we will find questions and doubts which we faced in our own life, at some point of time..

So, I would say this is a must read for every woman who finds it hard to balance work and life, and for all men for understanding why it is essential to support the women around you.

Jimmy said...

What I loved about this book, is its balanced approach to feminism. Sheryl Sandberg is no bra-burning, man-hating feminist, but represents the new feminism that encourages women to look beyond their limitations and reach for their best lives.