Lean In Book Review : Sheryl Sandberg’s Stories and Tips to Grow in Your Career

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lean_in_sheryl_sandbergSome women are lucky to be born in developed countries and some just plain unlucky to be born where being a women is enough to be despised. Despite where we are born and brought up, there are certain qualities we all seem to pick up along the way. Some, taught by women around us and some forced upon by the society. Women get more graduate degrees than ever and enter the workforce. But, why are there so few women leaders in the world? Why is the world “female COO” used and never a “male CEO” used when describing powerful positions?  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook has tried to give her practical insight, coupled with lot of her personal experiences.

Although this book has been thrashed again and again by the critics, is it really so bad?  Well, I don’t think so. Power is really influential and if Sheryl Sandberg says things that will help women to lean in, it will definitely have an impact.  The introduction of the book explains that women in previous generations have fought enough to give women lot of choice, but they never thought that opting out of workforce would be an option they’d choose. Sheryl encourages women to lean in – essentially this means to do what they’d do if they weren’t afraid.

Women need to sit at the table. Sitting at the table means a lot of things – it shows you are ready to grab  the opportunity; it shows that you can confidently acknowledge your initiatives. As research shows,  men grab more opportunities and women don’t – simply because they never feel that they are worthy of that opportunity.  Women are long seen as nurturing individuals and men ambitious. Women who negotiate their salary and do the tough talk are often liked less by men and women alike. This causes women to lean back even more, compromising on things where they can easily afford to be equal to men.  An interesting quote comes from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook :

If you want to change things, you cannot please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.

Career path is not like a ladder. It’s a Jungle Gym. Sheryl provides us with lot of practical advice in this area. While choosing a job, the wisest thing would be to choose one with fast growth opportunities, even if it means going few steps backward in the career. It is important to have 2 plans – one long term and one 18-month plan which covers results, goals and self-learning.  Women usually don’t apply for the opportunity if they do not consider themselves 100% fit, whereas a man would apply if they see themselves 60% fit. It is time to change that mindset and always give the opportunity a try if you knew you have the capability to learn and get the fast growth as good as a man.

Mentoring is a very fancy word and Sheryl feels that young women these days have little understanding of this concept.  A stranger cannot be mentor. Mentor-Mentee relationship happens through mutual trust and working together. A mentor need not spend a lot of time with mentee, but will be definitely around when tough decisions are to be made. A well prepared mentee will often be greeted by a reciprocative mentor.  As a woman, it is very natural to keep your opinion to yourself. We are already judged in so many areas of our lives and career is one area where we can afford to be quiet.  If we want to lean in and get career advancement – it is best to talk. Take feedback. And in the smartphone era, the line between personal and professional lives is blurring so fast that any try to keep them separate will only cost the women more. Coming across as more human in the workplace will definitely be helpful.

The best part of the book is in Chapter 7 – Don’t leave before you leave. With a toddler at home, I can totally relate to what she says.  Most of the women try to make a lot of career & child planning even before they get married. As per the societal norm, it is the women who will be “expected” to look after the kids and home. So, having a highly rewarding career is important before women leaves to have the kid so that we have more reasons to come back. And when the salary barely covers the kid’s child care – just take a look at the salary and expenses ten years from now.

When women want to lean in at work, that is only possible by a partner who is ready to lean in at home.  So, how much you can lean in in your life will really depend on whom you get married to. A working mother is already driven by guilt and without a supporting partner, it will only turn worse. As per the quoted research in the book, exclusive maternal care does not result in any extra development for the child. What will really matter is the quality of relationship between the parents. The question is not “Can I have it all?” but “Can I do what is most important for me and family?”. Success means making the best choice we can and accept them.

The concluding chapters of the book talk more about the gender stereotype present in the society. Sheryl urges women to speak about it more often and the situation will change slowly and steadily. Women are women’s biggest enemy. The world will be a better place when half of the offices are run by women and half of the homes are run by men.

As a woman, it is hard not to agree with the things Sheryl says. Being 10 years in IT, I can recall the incidents where I did not sit at the table, where I passed on the opportunity because I wasn’t 100% fit, where I felt guilty leaving my daughter home and going for work.  But, at the end – if we do not talk about it and create a sense of urgency for change, who else will? These kind of books will always be received in a negative manner, only because truth and change are two most uncomfortable things in life.  Come, join with Sheryl in this lean in movement here.

Have you read the book? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • Sridhar Rajendran

    It is nice to read some positive reviews about the book that has been trashed as feminism. Guess women in similar situation can identify themselves better with Sheryl Sandberg 🙂