Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

To say Lean In is an inspirational “girl power” book would be a serious understatement. To say Lean In beautifully and accurately puts into words every exact feeling I, and hopefully many others, have about being a female in Corporate America would do the book more justice, but probably not enough.

As Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and former VP at Google, Sheryl Sandberg has experienced every possible negative and positive emotion about being a woman in the world of business. She goes beyond the old “all men are sexist” diatribe and points out that men and women are guilty of displaying gender bias in the workplace, and in order to overcome it two things must happen: Women have to stop limiting themselves and get out of their own way, and men have to be more active in childcare/general home responsibilities. I could not agree more if I tried.

I am currently in my third “real job” and wrapping up my third full year of being in the professional world, and this is the first time I do not feel like a glorified secretary 70% of the time. I have respect for people with the appropriate skill set for that type of position, but it’s not what I went to school for nor is it the job(s) I applied for. At my previous jobs, nothing got my goat more than when I was asked to print, fax, staple or file when every single person around me was perfectly capable of doing the same thing. I am extraordinarily grateful to now be in a higher position (ahem, manager) surrounded by female directors and VPs whom I look up to and believe can do exactly as Sheryl asks — rise to positions such as COO, CFO, CTO/CIO, CMO, even CEO — in the near future. But most companies have a seriously long way to go.

Do I want to some day be a vice president or C-level executive? Maybe. Depends on the company. What I definitely want is to know the possibility is there, and not be discouraged to even consider such a thing. A woman I admire more than anyone in the world was recently passed up for a position she was so obviously perfectly qualified for, and the man who received the position instead is proving to be rather incompetent. So many organizations are still boys’ clubs, and it surprised and saddened me to read Sheryl’s statistics on how much we’ve actually digressed in that area in the last few decades.

As for Sheryl’s second request, for men to be more active on the home front, that is probably one of the (many) reasons I am extremely hesitant about having children. I have never once in my life felt that I was put here on this earth to reproduce. I am here to enjoy myself, to have a fulfilling career, to develop important relationships. Should I someday decide to have a child or two, I need to be absolutely sure the father and I are in a completely equal partnership in which we take turns getting up in the middle of the night, changing diapers, staying home with a sick child on a week day, driving to and from various practices, cooking, cleaning (scratch that, I hate cooking and will do all the cleaning if I never have to cook again a day in my life) and ESPECIALLY working. None of those things have to nor should be solely a woman’s or man’s responsibility, and it’s a relief to know someone like Sheryl Sandberg (and many of her friends and colleagues and their husbands) feels the same way and actually acts on it.

A few smaller details in the book that really stood out to me: I have not experienced this, but Sheryl says it’s rather common for twenty- and thirty-something women to consider their nonexistent marriages and unborn children in their career choices. Um, what? You’re telling me there are females my age out there weighing job opportunities based on the fact that they may someday get married and produce a child and possibly not work anymore? That is absurd. Also, Sandberg is not Sheryl’s husband’s last name. That makes four women I know of who never changed their last names — my mom, my sister, my aunt and Sheryl — and I may be the fifth. I don’t see anything inherently wrong in changing or not changing your last name, but I am now the only person in my family with my last name. It’s my father’s last name, and I don’t want to lose that part my identity. If I make it my middle name, which is currently my mom’s last name, then I lose that part of my identity, and if I keep my middle and last names and add a husband’s, I’ll have four names. That’s just crazy. (It’s super-fun here inside my head, thinking about whether or not I ever want to have children or change my last name when I get married.)

I also felt a bit of an internal conflict while reading Lean In because I am vehemently opposed to the company Sheryl works for and disgusted by what it has done to the world, my generation in particular. Remember when we took pictures on real cameras so we could print them out and put them in frames or scrapbooks? Remember when we had good times out with friends and family without having to stop and post a clever status about it? I’m not saying Sheryl is responsible for all of this — her evil, soulless boss Mark Zuckerberg is — and this is all coming from someone who has a Facebook account and views the news feed a little too often, but she has helped get it this far. So it was a little weird to feel such adamant support of her ideals while hating the organization she represents.

If you couldn’t already tell, I strongly, passionately urge all female professionals, no matter what profession, to read this book. I urge males to read it too, but a) I know they’re less likely to and b) I don’t think many males read this blog. Lean In is relatively quick and easy to get through, and I hope it will make others feel as comforted as I am that there are people out there who share your beliefs and want to see some gosh darn change.

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