Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In, the self-described “sort of a feminist manifesto” on women and leadership, has haters. Living in Silicon Valley, Sheryl Sandberg’s is a well-known name even outside of the tech and business realms. I was intrigued by the topic of her book and purchased it within a week of its release. As I began to read it, I was surprised by all of the criticism I began to hear about it . . . many from people who hadn’t actually read the book. And many, surprisingly, from other women.
Some complained that the highly successful Sandberg couldn’t relate to the everyday reader, having financial resources and career stability that allow for risks or additional support that most women can’t afford. Despite the fact that in her book, Sandberg repeatedly acknowledges the fact that she is more fortunate in many regards than most, and doesn’t offer tips that would require a COO’s salary or stature.
Others lamented that Sandeberg was tackling the wrong end of the problem, urging women to be more assertive and push themselves to achieve more in their careers rather than urging for changes to the types of practices that create the lack of balance between men and women in the workplace. Despite the fact that Sandberg points specifically to the need for such changes throughout the book.
Some argued that not all women want to “lean in” to their careers, preferring to put more focus on the work of raising a family. Though Sandberg addresses this openly in the book, writing “my intention is not to exclude them or ignore their valid concerns,” and also notes how difficult and worthwhile a choice it can be to sacrifice one’s career to devote oneself completely to the upbringing of their children, whether a mother or a father, and that the reality of childcare costs in America make this a necessity for many families. Not to mention the fact that a book on women’s leadership in the workplace is probably not the most fitting reading selection for someone who isn’t interested in being a part of the workforce.
It’s this controversy around Lean In that exemplifies why the book is needed, and why the dialogue it seeks to spark is necessary. The average woman -- or man, for that matter -- isn’t able to change gender inequality in the workplace overnight. But she can change the way she approaches her own career. And the way she changes that approach can have an impact of the careers of others.
Many of us also tend to stand in our own way, resisting the urge to reach for opportunities in our careers because we don’t think we can, or should. All Sandberg is imploring throughout the book is for women to not stand in the way of their own success, and offers examples from her own career of how she has done so (or seen others do so) in the past so we might not needlessly repeat the same mistakes. What’s so wrong with that?
If the criticisms you’ve heard about Lean In have dissuaded you from reading it, ignore them, and read it for yourself. This isn’t to say that you’ll find every portion of the book relatable to your own life and career. But I find it very difficult to believe that someone would read the book without taking away a few bits of advice that they couldn’t benefit from applying to their own careers.
Over the next few posts, I’ll share the top 5 tips from Lean In that I found particularly interesting and helpful. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book. If you find yourself wanting more, check out LeanIn.org, and watch Sandberg’s TED Talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders,” here.