I first heard about Sheryl Sandberg a year ago when she spoke at a commencement and her speech went viral. When she suggested then that women should “lean in,” I thought, she seemed to have a very modern husband and she obviously had a lot of paid help.
With the recent publication of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I have been hearing about the book everywhere – one friend was assigned the book as part of her performance review; another company placed a copy of the paperback on every female’s desk; and even my “low-key” book club selected it for this months’ read (in between sips of wine).
I started to wonder just what the book was about but was still pretty skeptical about it applying to me. In fact, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t agree with the thinking that if women just “lean in” we can advance the working world into a truly level playing field. As a female professional, I thought we had already come through the feminist revolution and now found ourselves with a plethora of choices (as long as we had the money and desire to outsource our personal lives and childcare).
As it turns out, the book opened my eyes to the need for universal ability for career and life fulfillment. The plethora of choices paved by feminism still didn’t address the cultural stigmas and obstacles of women in the workforce. Ultimately, I surprised myself by not only agreeing with many of the points in the book, but was further endeared to Sheryl’s openness and vulnerability as a female executive and a mom.
Throughout the book, Sheryl dives deeper into some personal experiences and real world examples from friends on how they balance lives with high-powered careers. In one example, she talks about riding a private jet to a conference where she brought her kids along and inadvertently exposed the fellow colleagues to her children’s lice. As a female, she admits to having cried in front of co-workers and needing a hug from her boss. In essence, she’s human.
Her philosophy is that women need to value themselves more and lean in to their work. One statistic referenced claims that:
- Women who see a job opening and have 95% of the skills listed in the requirement will apply.
- Men, on the other hand, will apply for the same job if they meet just 65% of the skill set.
Women need to change their mindsets and reach beyond themselves. (Note: my only critique of the book is that it is rife with statistics and reads more like a quantitative sociology study in some places!)
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small,
by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands,
and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”
— Sheryl Sandberg
Similarly, the work place needs to change its culture. Examples cited here include women not raising their hands or speaking up to be heard. Women need to either change that habit or work places need to recognize this difference and resort to other methods of drawing out the opinions of women. Sheryl explains that women tend to sit at the back of the room or back from the table in a meeting. She speaks directly to women to sit at the table, raise your hand and be heard.
On the home front, Sheryl recognizes that parenting still mostly falls to Mom and that Dads need to be 50% partners. She even proposed that women can date whomever they want but only marry those that will be true 50% partners in family/work/life balance. One of her friends even devises tests to figure out if her husband-to-be will be flexible enough to take up the slack when her work suddenly takes precedence. Figuratively, while women are sitting at the table at work, men need to sit at the kitchen table at home. Men need to help plan meals, clean the house, and engage with the kids’ activities and school. (Can I get a hallelujah in here?!)
“As women must be more empowered at work,
men must be more empowered at home.”
— Sheryl Sandberg
Given all her thoughtful examples and belabored stats, the majority of Sheryl’s book still only applies to a certain audience – the career-loving female. These are the women in the work force who may undervalue their contribution or potential or the career-minded woman who feels like she have can’t it all. Sheryl’s book is meant to inspire those women and tell them to ask more of their company and their partners.
Lean In only tells the picture of the small subset of women in the business world who have a desire and ability to move forward in their careers. As noted by her, only five of the fortune 500 company CEOs have been women. Though she makes her goal to work to change this, it seems like only part of the picture.
I can’t help but feel like we won’t get to even 50 of the Fortune 500 CEOs being women unless all parts of the picture change – our work culture needs to demand less and offer more for life balance, while our home lives need to be more equitable. Work hours need to go back to that 1950s era of 9-5, where you don’t have to sneak out of the parking lot at 5:00 to go home to your family dinner. Similarly, our partners need to move out of the 1950s and even 1980s. It needs to be cool to take care of the kids (you aren’t “babysitting” when they are your own children) and to help with the housework, not just to mow the lawn.
“We need more portrayals of women as
competent professionals and happy mothers —
or even happy professionals and competent mothers.”
— Sheryl Sandberg
As a consultant, I feel that we are trying to bridge that gap between high involvement in personal or family life and financial success at a career. While we are not aiming to be CEOs or even sitting at the table of the board, we are finding personal fulfillment with a balance of home life. I don’t think this book applies to female consultants in the sense that Sheryl is trying to change the structure and culture of companies.
However, as female consultants we are being heard – we are asked to give advice, opinions and strategy. We are present in the work force while still having personal/family lives. So lean in, sit at the table and be heard – in whatever form that takes for you personally and professionally and let’s hope the rest of the culture shift can meet us the other half of the way…