Lean In | Notes & Review

Posted on January 27, 2014


Sheryl Sandberg. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead. Alfred A. Knopf, 2013 (228 pages)


http://leanin.org/ & www.facebook.com/leaninorg

Introduction: Internalizing the Revolution

It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled. The promise of equality is not the same as true equality. | A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world. (7)

Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns. (7)

A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. (8)

This book makes the case for leaning in, for being ambitious in any pursuit. (10)

1. the Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

…the data clearly indicate that in field after field, more men than women aspire to the most senior jobs. … When jobs are described as powerful, challenging, and involving high levels of responsibility, they appeal to more men than women. (16)

…many women “still see ambition as a dirty word.” (18)

From the moment we are born, boys and girls are treated differently. (19)

The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. … Compounding the problem is a social-psychological phenomenon called “stereotype threat.” (22)

…women are not thinking about ‘having it all,’ they’re worried about losing it all — their jobs, their children’s health, their families’ financial stability — because of the regular conflicts that arise between being a good employee and a responsible parent. – Ellen Bravo

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. (24)

I believe that choice means choice for all of us. But I also believe that we need to do more to encourage women to reach for leadership roles. (25)

Writing this book is not just me encouraging others to lean in. This is is me leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid. (26)

2. Sit at the Table

This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name — the impostor syndrome. (29)

We all know supremely confident people who have no right to feel that way. We also all know people who could do so much more if only they believed in themselves. Like so many things, a lack of confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (33)

When I don’t feel confident, one tactic I’ve learned is that it sometimes helps to fake it. (33)

3. Success and Likability

…success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. (40)

…self-doubt becomes a form of self-defense. – Ken Auletta

In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can. (41)

4. It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder

Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder. – Pattie Sellers

…ladders are limiting — people can move up or down, on or off. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. … Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top. On a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above. (53)

When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies grow more slowly or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to not be doing them. Politics and stagnation set in, and everyone falters. (58)

If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on. – Eric Schmidt

I have seen both men and women miss out on great opportunities by focusing too much on career levels. (61)

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker

5. Are You My Mentor?

I mentor when I see something and say, “I want to see that grow.” – Oprah Winfrey

The men were focusing on how to manage a business and the women were focusing on how to manage a career. The men wanted answers and the women wanted permission and help. I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. … Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others. (66)

Studies show that mentors select protégés based on performance and potential. Intuitively, people invest in those who stand out for their talent or who can really benefit from help. Mentors continue to invest when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback.. It may turn into a friendship, but the foundation is a professional relationship. Given this, I believe we have sent the wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, “Get a mentor and you will excel.” Instead, we need to tell them, “Excel and you will get a mentor.” (68)

[Regarding a mentee of Sandberg’s] She never asked to get together to “catch up.” She never asked a question that she could have found the answer to on her own. (68)

While asking a stranger to be a mentor rarely, if ever, works, approaching a stranger with a pointed, well-thought-out inquiry can yield results. (68)

Capturing someone’s attention or imagination in a minute can be done, but only when planned and tailored to that individual. (69)

Mentorship is often a more reciprocal relationship than it may appear, especially in situations where people are already working at the same company. (69)

Most people in the position to mentor are quite adept at problem solving. Give them a problem to solve. (71)

6. Seek and Speak Your Truth

All organizations have some form of hierarchy, which means that someone’s performance is assessed by someone else’s perception. (78)

When psychologists study power dynamics, they find that people in low-power positions are more hesitant to share their views and often hedge their statements when they do. This helps explain why for many women, speaking honestly in a professional environment carries an additional set of fears: Fear of not being considered a team player. Fear of seeming negative or nagging. Fear that constructive criticism will come across as just plain old criticism. Fear that by speaking up, we will call attention to ourselves, which might open us up to attack (a fear brought to us by that same voice in the back of our heads that urges us not to sit at the table). (78)

Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest. (78)

…there is my point of view (my truth) and someone else’s point of view (his truth). Rarely is there one absolute truth, so people who believe that they speak the truth are very silencing of others. (79)

Truth is also better served by using simple language. (79)

The ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak. (80)

Feedback is an opinion, grounded in observations and experiences, which allows us to know what impression we make on others. (83)

…the upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance. (84)

Miscommunication is always a two-way street. (85)

It has been an evolution, but I am now a true believer in bringing our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. (89)

People often pretend that professional decisions are not affected by their personal lives. … I hope this won’t always be the case. (90)

Not every workplace and every colleague will be as generous and caring. But I do think we are moving toward at least blurring the line between personal and professional. (90)

Maybe someday shedding tears in the workplace will no longer be viewed as embarrassing or weak, but as s simple display of authentic emotion. And maybe the compassion and sensitivity that have historically held some women back will make them more natural leaders in the future. In the meantime, we can all hasten this change by committing ourselves to both seek — and speak — our truth. (91)

7. Don’t Leave Before You Leave

…when it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them. (93)

I fully support any man or woman who dedicates his or her life to raising the next generation. It is important and demanding and joyful work. | What I am arguing is that the time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives — not before, and certainly not years in advance. The months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in. (95)

Personal choices are not always as personal as they appear. We are all influenced by social conventions, peer pressure, and familial expectations. (100)

If society truly valued the work of caring for children, companies and institutions would find ways to reduce these steep penalties and help parents combine career and family responsibilities. All too often rigid work schedules, lack of paid family leave, and expensive or undependable child care derail women’s best efforts. Governmental and company policies such as paid personal time off, affordable high-quality child care, and flexible work practices would serve families, and society, well. (102)

Anyone lucky enough to have options should keep them open. Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make. (103)

8. Make Your Partner a Real Partner

…the emotional support and shared experience that a spouse provides cannot be bought. (106)

It’s not about biology, but about consciousness. – Gloria Steinem

We all need to encourage men to lean in to their families. (113)

When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. (115)

9. The Myth of Doing It All

“Having it all.” Perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women was the coining of this phrase. …these three little words are intended to be aspirational but instead make all of us feel like we have fallen short. (121)

10. Let’s Start Talking About It

Talking can transform minds, which can transform behaviors, which can transform institutions. (148)

Most people would agree that gender bias exists…in others. (151)

Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.

Currently, only 24 percent of women in the United States say that they consider themselves feminists. Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism — “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” — the percentage of women who agree rises to 65 percent. That’s a big move in the right direction. | Semantics can be important, but I don’t think progress turns on our willingness to apply a label to ourselves. I do think progress turns on our willingness to speak up about the impact gender has on us. We can no longer pretend that biases do not exist, nor can we talk around them. And as Harvard Business School has demonstrated, the result of creating a more equal environment will not just be better performance for our organizations, but quite likely greater happiness for all. (158)

11. Working Together Toward Equality

So how do we move forward? Firs,t we must decide that true equality is long overdue and will be achieved only when more women rise to the top of every government and every industry. Then we have to do the hard work of getting there. … Instead of ignoring our differences, we need to accept and transcend them. | For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home. We have celebrated the fact that women have the right to make this decision, and rightly so. But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership. It is time to cheer on girls and women who want to sit at the table, seek challenges, and lean in to their careers. (159)

We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. So let’s start by validating one another. Mothers who work outside the home should regard mothers who work inside the home as real workers. And mothers who work inside the home should be equally respectful of those choosing another option. (168)

I know that for many women, getting to the top of their organizations is far from their primary focus. My intention is not to exclude them or ignore their valid concerns. I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all. More female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all women. (171)

I believe women can lead more in the workplace. I believe men can contribute more in the home. And I believe that this will create a better world, one where half our institutions are run by women and half our homes are run by men. (172)

— VIA —

There’s much to commend in this work, so to end on a positive note, I’ll start with my critiques.

The tone was, at times, a bit self-inflating. Of course, this is merely my perception, and perhaps stereotypical response to a woman’s writing. However, I have a strong value for feminism (see other blog posts), so I believe my feelings have at least some objectivity to them. I write this, however, not to exonerate myself, but because any narcissistic tone could ultimately work against what the author is trying to do. I fear this may be the case, slightly, with some of what Sandberg writes.

I also nitpick with the definition of equality. Sandberg writes,

It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled. The promise of equality is not the same as true equality. | A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world. (7)

While I concur that more women in leadership over countries and companies would make them better, I do not believe that an equal ratio is the definition of equality. She mentions elsewhere “opportunity” as the prime objective, and I simply wish this would have made its way into the definition of “equality.” Secondly, the verbiage of “ran,” is problematic for me as it perpetuates hierarchical power structures that I would argue are very much at the root of this entire issue. I propose that the goal is not to get women to be “in charge” instead of men, but rather the entire concept or idea of “in charge” is augmented (perhaps done away with) in favor of a more egalitarian view of leadership in every arena, companies, countries, and homes.

On page 73, Sandberg writes,

We cannot assume that interactions between men and women have a sexual component. And everyone involved has to make sure to behave professionally so women — and men — feel safe in all settings. (73)

This is also a bit nitpicky. I agree with the safety goal but am dubious that interactions between men and women will be void of sexuality. The entire program of writing about any gender issue is by its very nature, sexual. I propose that sexual neutrality cannot simply be asserted. Rather an entire philosophical construct of gender/sexuality must be worked in and through here to get at the safety that Sandberg proposes.

On page 115, Sandberg’s reference to the popular book Porn For Women, is, in my opinion, a bit distasteful, and more to the point, promulgates the very stereotypes that Sandberg is attempting to write against. This reference is at best quite unneeded, and at worst, counterproductive.

Lastly, Sandberg writes,

The goal is to work toward a world where those social norms no longer exist. … Expectations will not be set by gender but by personal passions, talents, and interests. (169)

This is not only an unrealistic goal, but one that I do not think accomplishes the greatest good (as I will end with below).

Now, to the positive comments.

Regardless of my nitpicky critiques above, this is a book on leadership that would benefit anyone regardless of gender. I especially appreciated the insights on mentoring which honestly helped me understand why I have been so frustrated in my own personal mentoring relationships with a variety of mentees. It has been said, “Don’t look for people with potential. Look for people who have produced.” Why? Everyone has potential. Not everyone capitalizes on it and turns it into productivity.

The “jungle gym” vs. “ladder” would benefit anyone currently on corporate rungs. The “myth of doing it all,” is a welcome exhortation, not just to women, but to our entire culture. And, the elaboration of “truth,” would serve every conversation and conflict, if only people would listen well enough to understand.

Perhaps the thing that struck out to me the most is that this is not just about marginalization of women, but an entire cultural deficit in our views of family, children, men, and women. It is not simply that women are disenfranchised. It is that our culture suffers from a self-inflicted wound of all sorts of chauvinism, and it is illustrated in our treatment of women. This poor treatment indicts our culture of systemic and structural devaluation of its participants, particularly of the youngest among us and the institution that supports and sustains our world the most, the family. Yes, women should lean in to their careers. But this is a book about everyone leaning in to everything. Women are needed in the workforce. Men are needed in the family. Both are needed in the running of these institutions as well as countries, and in the work of justice, and in the management of wealth, etc. Let us all lean in to each other, and lean in together.

It is for this reason that I believe ignoring gender, or working towards a blindness to gender is both impossible and damaging. Why? Because it is the very essence of “other” that is needed in everything in our world. Women and men need to bring the fullness of their gender to bear on this world, for each has its strengths and weaknesses that when paired together exemplify the fullness of our humanity, and dare I say, the very best of what leadership has to offer. At the risk of mixing ideologies, it is the very complimentary nature of gender that makes me egalitarian. We must acknowledge the differences, tendencies, and yes, even stereotypes, but these perceptions are not our culture’s problem. It is the absence of equally valuing each of these differences, tendencies, and yes, stereotypes.

May we value these differences enough to challenge and exhort all of us to lean in.

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