Sheryl Sandberg is everywhere right now. Turn on CNN and she’s talking to Soledad O’Brien. Pull up Harvard Business School’s website and she’s the lead story. She’s talking to Oprah. Her book launch was the talk of the twitterverse and everyone wants to weigh in on whether she’s a genius and an icon of women’s progress in breaking the glass ceiling or an over privileged Harvard grad who got her opportunities handed to her on a silver platter. All because of her new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead which is currently #1 on Amazon.
I thought I’d read the book and hear what she has to say.
Let’s start with the good (and there’s quite a lot of it):
- Men are Not the Enemy – It’s quite refreshing to hear a modern day feminist take the position that women and men are not adversaries but partners in the search for success and balance. In multiple parts of the book, Sheryl talks about the need for collaboration and support between women and men in order for women to make it to those seats on boards and to the c-suites. She also takes the novel position that men might also benefit from a shift in how the working world views their parental priorities. It’s the right tactic. Women will never make progress if men are the enemy.
- Addressing the Criticisms – Sheryl comes right out and addresses the main criticisms others have made about her, and she does so in a very straightforward way that doesn’t come across as defensive so much as realistic. She says early on that this is her story of what works for her, and that she understands women come from different backgrounds and have differing resources. She acknowledges that there are many varied ideals of success and that not all women want what she wants. She also says that she has had advantages that helped her along the way. But she also asks women to take responsibility for their own paths; to decide that while it’s true that institutions must change when they don’t promote women as often as men, women must also take accountability and do the work to show those institutions that they are motivated and committed and worth investing in.
- Readability – I don’t know if Sheryl had help writing this book or not, but it feels and sounds very authentic. Her voice comes through loud and clear, and she held my attention throughout with a cohesive, consistent storyline that neither bogged down into an academic treatise, nor glossed over complex topics without providing backup and facts. There’s a huge reference section in the back and the text is chock full of fascinating statistics to back up her statements and add a solid grounding of facts to her conclusions. I read the whole book over two days and never once felt bored or like I was being patronized.
I really only had one critique of the book – overall I think Lean In is a great read for working women, and encourages the right actions. Connect with people. Partner with men, don’t demonize them. Stay committed until there’s a real obstacle instead of quitting because there might be one in the future. But despite these positives, I couldn’t help but come away with a bit of a mixed message about women who choose not to be in the workforce or who choose to do so part-time. Sure, Sheryl acknowledges that there are lots of definitions of success, and in fact some of her most honest moments in the book are when she talks about the constant “grass is greener” competition between Working Women and Stay-at-Home Moms. She points out that this undercurrent of competition is unhealthy for both groups, but she clearly comes down on the side of her own choice. She agrees that there’s huge value in the work done by mothers in the home, but at the end of the day it’s clear that she wants women to stay in the workforce, to find ways to make it work, to stay in for the sake of all women.
And in case you are a guy and wondering if this book has anything to offer you, I’d say yes. While it’s clearly full of advice for women, there’s plenty here which is of value to men who work with women, men who manage women, and men who are in relationships with women. It’s not a feminist manifesto (ok maybe it is a little one…) so much as an analysis of where we are now, how we got here, and what’s next for women in the workforce.
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