Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has written a book about why she believes women need to be better represented in leadership positions in government and industry and the steps that they might take to improve their chances of doing so. While she draws on her own experiences - and those of her friends and colleagues - she also cites copious research (personalised for the edition that you are reading, whether it is the US, UK or Australian/NZ edition). The book is not long, nor difficult to read, and it is guaranteed to get you thinking.
Sandberg makes some really interesting points about the ways that men and women are judged differently (by people of both sexes) and that like it or not, women need to understand this and work with it rather than fighting it. Women can't behave in exactly the same ways that men do and get away with it. She also talks about mistakes that women make, like avoiding new jobs or responsibilities because they plan to have a family soon. She makes the point that the time to cut back is after the baby arrives, not before - and that possibly, if the job is satisfying you, you may make different decisions to the ones that you anticipated.
This is very much a book that is encouraging women to climb corporate ladders (Sandberg's point being that the more women there are at high levels, the more that all women in the workforce will benefit). What she doesn't address is the issues that women may face if they don't want their lives to be so career driven. While she is an advocate for paid parental leave, she talks about taking off weeks (maybe a few months). Her idea of cutting back is leaving work at 5.30pm but then putting in several more hours later at night. She takes the attitude that children will always make parents feel guilty for something, so don't worry if they give you grief about not being there. She also lives in a world where you can take your kids with you on the private plane when you head off on a work trip.
Sandberg fully acknowledges her privileged position and she say several times that women who stay home are contributing just as much as those who work (and I believe she means this), but I wish she had explored options for women who want to work part time or take larger periods of time out from the workforce.
I found this book really interesting. In my twenties I was very career driven, advancing quickly through the ranks of a large multi-national organisation. When my first child was born very prematurely with significant health issues, that changed many of my priorities, and I have never worked full time since. This book made me think a lot about the choices I made and also some mistakes that I made. For examples, I remember a job interview (I didn't get the job), and the way that the interviewer interpreted something I said. I think now that it was a classic case of a woman being judged in a way that a man wouldn't be, and that maybe I should have been wiser about the way I presented myself. I wish that I had had this book to read 15 years ago.
on 16 March 2013
I bought this book because I had read some reviews of it - and was intrigued - what was this woman saying that had wound some people up so much ?
What she has said is: I am a working woman with kids who wants my daughter, and every other woman's daughter, to have equal opportunities as she grows up. And I believe a world where woman are in positions of power and influence will be a better world for everyone.
This clear and simple message seems to have got lost in a row about who she is - too successful, too rich, too white, too first world. All arguments that she deals with graciously and thoughtfully in the book. In fact having read it, I assume that the people who have weighed in with the most criticism just haven't bothered to read and considered what she has written. I would read it and consider it on its merits. As a book, it does quote a lot of research, and it doesn't always flow well. But it still contains some important messages. Well done her for taking the risk in putting her head above the parapet and starting a debate about what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century.
on 15 April 2013
I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (SS) last weekend. I found it accessible, compulsive reading and surprisingly radical. I would recommend it to both women and men as it's full of enlightening and useful insights as well as constructive advice.
A lot of what SS says chimed with me. I don't believe we have perfect equality yet, but I certainly believe that I've had opportunities that weren't available to my mother or her generation, let alone to women in less developed parts of the world. I am thankful to earlier generations of feminists for their work and for being born in the UK.
I was also brought up with the expectation that I would work and support myself; that my parents would support me through my education, but then the rest was up to me. Finding a rich husband wasn't encouraged...nor discouraged for that matter. I am grateful to them for letting me discover my own path.
I do agree there are subtle differences in how girls are brought up and how we are treated in the workplace. "Benevolent sexism" Sheryl calls it. Girls are encouraged to be good and nice and not assert themselves too much, especially around boys. Women in powerful positions are judged far more harshly than their male counterparts by both men AND women. It always shocks me how appearance seems to matter so much more for women than for men for example. Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel all had to modify their appearance. John Prescott could certainly afford to, but never did!
But I also agree that we hold ourselves back, or don't "lean in" as Sheryl would say. I can think of countless times when I let male colleagues dominate in meetings or didn't put myself forward for things. I didn't want to get noticed too much. I also tend to take on the supporting role, helping other people get on, avoiding the limelight in many ways. Don't get me wrong, I've made a good career out of this, but have a sneaking suspicion I could've done more had I pushed myself a bit harder and didn't worry so much about what other people thought.
Changing ourselves is where we have absolute power to change. And change things in our own way. One of the things I've noticed recently is that women seem to support each other more. There are numerous groups both inside and outside organisations supporting women. Mentoring or being mentored has become a normal part of business practice (not just for women of course). And there are also plenty of good female role models these days, from businesswomen to politicians to journalists, academics and other public figures.
So I'm always shocked when women say they aren't feminists and, apparently, only a quarter of us do. For me feminism means equality - social, political and economic. No more, no less. It isn't aligned to any single individual or point of view. That would be like saying you aren't a conservative because you don't like a particular Minister, or you aren't a socialist because you object to a position on a single policy. So let's stop throwing baby out with the bathwater and get the feminist revolution moving again - our way!
(This review is cross-posted from my blog at[...])
on 2 December 2015
Truly Inspirational. I downloaded the audible book expecting not to like it but I was frankly invigorated and blown away.
It's a very well written book and truly shows the great understanding Sherly Sandberg has of women's role in society as a whole. Frankly, I think anyone who gives this book a negative review isn't at that point in their life where they need this type of inspiration. Women matter and currently, we're very much taken as second class citizens. There is plenty of advice in this book for both people in careers and entrepreneurial women to handle the world better and live better lives.
on 26 January 2016
I'm not the most 'Millie-Tant' of women, in fact I'm not a fan of women only groups and business networks, however, some of this really made me think. A lot of the situations where women were not assertive or didn't get their voice heard I couldn't relate to personally, however, the examples and instances of how women internalise and evaluate themselves, I could really relate too. Women do think differently and it is laid out here. If it could get an old tough cynic like me thinking then it could inspire lots more people. It's actually a short and easy read - no Warren Buffett tome.
on 15 March 2013
I am surprised I'm the first one to review this book on amazon UK.
I had very high hopes for this book, having been an avid fan of Sheryl's since her Ted talk. She reinstates her ideas from the talk and her Barnard commencement speech such as Sit at the table, Don't leave before you leave and of course, Lean in. Having read quite a few negative reactions to the book prior to receiving it, I was excited to get my hands on it. It seems like quite the few negative reactions came from people who didn't even read the book as Sheryl does a great job of addressing all those criticisms. The fact that she is, as some put it, "a rich white lady" does not diminish her accomplishments or her message.
Lean in strikes a great balance between academic research and her own personal stories. Sheryl comes across as intelligent (no surprise there), genuine and, at times, very funny. This book especially spoke to me because I realised I make many of the mistakes listed in the book and knowing that someone as senior and successful as Sheryl still makes them is comforting and gave me that "A-ha, it's not just me then" moment. Some sections were surprising (e.g. crying at the workplace) and some not so much (e.g. Sheryl being a bossy child). As I said, being a big fan (so I'm probably quite biased) I utterly enjoyed the book and inhaled it within one afternoon, however I will be returning to it once I have more time.
Overall, I think this book can be enjoyable to both men and women of all ages but is especially important for young women (like myself) to read it and internalise many of its encouraging messages.
This book and its author have received so much attention in recent weeks that just about everything that can be said about them has already been expressed. So, I have decided to explain this book's relevance to me. Although there are more than a dozen reasons, I shall briefly discuss only three.
First, I am married to a woman who divides her time almost equally between a career and her personal life. We have a daughter who left a highly promising career as a corporate executive to concentrate on raising two young children. We have ten grandchildren (five female) who range in age from six to 21. I am self-employed and continue to work full-time. These are among the dimensions of my life and Sheryl Sanberg has much to say about each of them that is of substantial value to me. There were times when I felt as if she had written this book for me and that leads to my second point.
Although Sanberg cites many sources that have provided information and insights of value to her, this book is primarily a personal account such as Whitney Johnson's Dare, Dream, Do rather than a more general commentary such as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and Gloria Steinem's Revolution from Within or, more recently, Anne Kreamer's It's Always Personal, Lois Frankel's Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, Mika Brzezinski's Knowing Your Value, and Emily Bennington's Who Says It's a Man's World. Sanberg's book comes as close as a book can to being a transcript of her comments during a private, personal conversation with her reader. I could almost hear her voice as I proceeded from one page to the next. By the time I finished reading it the first time, I thought I knew at least as much (if not more) about her as a person as I did about her as a C-level corporate executive.
Finally, to an extent no one else had previously done, she reconfirmed what I realized many years ago: Perfect balance of one's personal and professional lives -- if it were possible, and it isn't -- would almost certainly guarantee failure in both. Adjustments and modifications are constant because life tends to be messy and unpredictable. Living is not a zero sum game. Success (however defined) is possible in any and all dimensions: work, family life, personal life, community...or, if you prefer, mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. They are not separable. Rather, they are interdependent...for better or worse. Variable balance really is possible if these conditions are met: all dimensions are nourished, they are mutually supportive, expectations in any one are bold but within reason, and there is a willingness to make sacrifices and concessions to resolve conflicts.
Sometimes we are juggling oranges, on other occasions, hand grenades. As master jugglers such as Sheryl Sanberg remind us, the secret is in the toss but first you have to get into the game.
on 26 August 2013
I was expecting (and was very well prepared) to hate this book. Books by high profile and usually egotistical business leaders based on their volcano-like career path and single view of the world usually make me slightly nauseas just looking at the book jacket photo and bio. As a fat white bloke and Nice Guy Mysoginist (thanks for that one Sheryl!) bathed in the scientific fact and the diversity consultant rhetoric of the ‘gender agenda’ I wondered what new evidence led ideas and perspectives a busy COO had to bring to the table. Usually COOs talk the talk but don’t invest their time and reputation in diversity issues unless there is some self promotion.
I hoped that was not Sheryl’s ‘thing’.
Just how I came to have ‘Lean in’ in my holiday suitcase I am not sure, but a respected client had mentioned it as having been instrumental in developing their women in leadership programme and I had bought it as a ‘skimmer’ book for one of my many train journeys. In the rush to pack and wanting some light relief from the neuroscience books already packed I placed it at the bottom of the reading list knowing that by the time it reached the top some other distraction would hopefully have trumped it.
How stupid was (am) I? I started to read it on holiday, day 9 of 14, whilst in Cannes. I am a little shamed to say that I missed many of the town delights, including my planned trip to the famous beach, because this book was totally enthralling. Firstly, this is not your usual ‘How Sheryl got to the top’ book. Nor a gospel according to Sheryl. You have to pick around the chapters to piece together the author’s career and the central tenets are laid out as the chapter headings. And there is not one duff chapter. Secondly, this is not a book of business anecdote inserted solely to highlight how clever and insightful the author is/was. It uses anecdote well but it also backs the philosophies and ideas the anecdotes describe with the hard research. Some of the research sources were a little dated and I won’t be quoting some of the publication dates to some of my smart male audiences, but others were bang up to date suggesting that Sheryl or someone at her behest is on top of the academic literature. When you see opinion, ideas and philosophies underpinned by references including Ibarra, Moss-Racusin, Pronin, Fiske and Rudman. and you know this is not just another vanity ‘How to do leadership’ book.
As a fat white bloke I was expecting the early data bashing on gender inequality in the US and the UK. I know the hard data, and guys/blokes, we have to take this on the chin because the evidence is overwhelming. I saw Professor Michelle Ryan talk eloquently about the glass cliff a few years ago, and it seems that closing the data bolt-holes is a necessary modus operandi around female leader research and practice if we fat white blokes are to even listen, let alone act. Despite the amassed evidence I think there will be some deniers; those who interpret the data through the old lenses of ‘there is a now a level playing field’ ‘women need fixing’ or even ‘political correctness’ but I urge you to read on. Sheryl is just laying out the problem that needs fixing. She has the occasional dig about males but she also details how males have been significantly supportive to her as an aspiring women leader with a bit of mindfulness and a bit of courage. Suppress the urge to interpret this as a pejorative blame game; she is just reminding us of the facts.
The book then does some amazing things. It places critical and research led practice into the real business context. I am not sure what came first, the theory/research or the practice but they are melded together in a compelling fashion if you are a practitioner fed up of theory or a researcher fed up of antecdote. It covers stereotype threat, affinity bias, theory of mind and unconscious bias in the form of attributions. It explores networks, mentoring and Laura Liswood’s ideas on the scripts we all may carry about male and female behaviour. Ok, so none of this is new but this book does this with real examples, using real people (and real names) and has some real world ideas.
For me there were some real take-away messages from this book. As a niche researcher/psychologist working in the area the research/theory material was all familiar to me, but it is the clarity and practicality with which Sheryl picks out the key messages in this book which makes me say that EVERY manager should give up a day at the beach (or perhaps a few train journeys, equality/diversity meetings or a business trip) to read this book. And I say to other fat white blokes and Nice Guy Misogynists; read it and try not to let the indignation and testicles get in the way of a very good book which could change the way you work with and for women, within the business and (wipes an authentic tear) for societal good. Some of Sheryl’s points have some grounding yet to be done ( I also get legal push back on the idea of having honest conversations with all staff about their career plans, and how you manage the stereotype threat around sexual context) but it wouldn’t be half as much fun if she gave you all the answers!
If I had one small criticism it is that Sheryl perhaps skimmed over the privilidge she may have been afforded from being white, middle class and Harvard educated. She does mention that she recognises that her access to opportunity in the US and her ability to afford good child care does not make her like all aspiring women leaders internationally or even locally. I think we can forgive her that, given what we know about how we attribute our own successes (some of the other three holiday reads also sank in).
It turns out that Sheryl’s ‘thing’ is running a successful business that employs all the talent to get even more successful, and lets people decide what makes them happy.
As a woman working in technology, and slowly working my way up the management ladder, I have a real interest in what women such as Sheryl Sandberg think and do in order to get to the position that they’re in. I am lucky in the fact that within my current role I have not encountered any direct sexism, in fact my company is looking to create a programme encouraging women to join them and progress up the ranks and yet the fact that men outnumber women 10:1 shows me that something’s not working somewhere and I was hoping that this book would shed some light on it.
The earlier parts of Lean In resonated with me a lot. As I was reading I was nodding my head and reaching for my highlighter pen. There are so many of the traits of women that are mentioned which I do, being in such a male dominated office I didn’t realise that it’s something other women do as well (not being more forthright and hanging back). I also have a lot of the thoughts that were highlighted by Sandberg “I could have done better”, “one day they’ll realise I’m a fraud” knowing that I’m not alone in thinking like this has helped me to try and work against my natural programming, I now push myself to try and act in ways which don’t come naturally to me but which are more conductive to progressing my career. I at least used to internalise a lot of my feelings so most people were unaware of them, I do know of a number of women who work for me who voice these concerns, and it frustrates me no end as I know that they’re groundless. I now have a better understanding of where they’re coming from and can work to help them to make a change and understand that there feelings are not necessarily a correct reflection of how other people see them.
This book has also helped me to understand how other people see me, I am quite a strong woman and will stand my ground when I know that I’m right (while internally questioning my every move), someone who I have previously had a close working relationship with recently called me a “loveable b*tch” , having read this book I now think that this is a good thing, I’m showing some of the characteristics that are favoured in a woman but am still not considered a pushover.
If I was to judge this book solely on the first half I would have given it 5 stars, however, so much of the book is focused on juggling childcare and parenting with a (very) successful career. There are very few women (or men) in the workplace who will have the resources at hand that are available to Sandberg and so many of her thoughts around getting your OH to adjust their work schedule and do more from home aren’t realistic. Also, telling your bosses that you want X, Y and Z is also not something that we can do, yes women need to stand up for themselves more and ask for more rights but many of us do not have the position of power which she holds.
Additionally, I do not have children (not through choice) and so I found for so much of the book to be based around motherhood to be slightly grating, however, I appreciate that this is a personal preference based on my particular circumstances and this section was probably very helpful to someone who wasn’t in my position.
Having just completed this book I intend to go and look further into some of the research that Sandberg quotes and check out the Lean In Circles that are being created.
on 21 August 2013
Career advice for women from a very successful woman.
Key tips: 'sit at the table' (ie put yourself forward and don't hold yourself back - 'what would you do if you were not afraid?"); be aware of gender stereotyping and explain why you are going to negotiate before you do negotiate - but don't fail to negotiate (men negotiate naturally and it is expected of them); 'make your partner a real partner' (and, for example, don't go in for gatekeeper behaviour at home and ask him to step aside and let you do it when he's making a mess of things - let him do it himself and learn); generally in finding a job look at the growth potential of the company (as the author did with Google) and think what you can offer an employer that the employer actually wants/needs; and on living your life understand that time is a scarce resource and you can't have or do it all - the whole essence of the thing is trade-offs and decisions.
So, there's a lot of interest here; and the book gives every appearance of being well researched as well as full of personal material. The author tells us in the afterward that she has a co-writer; and that even so writing the book has taken out of the time she spends with her husband. This also has the ring of truth - but it does to some extent underscore the idea that the author is something of an exceptional human being.
I would recommend cross-checking her thinking against the recent book The XX Factor by Alison Wolf. That carefully explains that there are three life styles for women today - one fot the top 1%, another for the remainder of the top 20%, and a third for the other 80%. Sandberg is definitely part of the top 1% in that grouping. So perhaps her thinking is not entirely for everyone....