08 Jan Weighing in on Leaning In
I love that our book club mixes it up between fiction and nonfiction. But I have to say when Gail chose Lean In, the hugely popular bestseller by Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg, I had my doubts. I have seen her Tedtalk. I understand her message. But I wasn’t sure I entirely agreed.
Do we need another book hitting women over the head suggesting we need to step it up? Yet another message we’re not doing enough? Don’t we all struggle to excel in our careers, hold down our homes, remain hot wives, raise great children, be incredible daughters and friends sisters, etc.? I guess I was afraid of the guilt it would instill in me. Now that I have made a good start in the book I have to say I feel a little guilty it’s true…But oddly, I also feel a little inspired.
Sandberg’s message, that women need to lean into the boardroom table and pursue more leadership roles in their careers and that women themselves need to examine their own behavior and question why we hold ourselves back, is repeated and reinforced with ample statistics, data, and proving truths, none of this unexpected. But what came as a surprise, was Sandberg’s honesty about her own faulty progress. I was surprised by her admission she too struggles with insecurity and has questioned her own potential as a woman in a very powerful position. She is, after all, not only the former CEO of one of the world’s most successful enterprises, she is a once-divorced, now re-married woman and the mother of two children.
In her opinion, a truly equal world would be one where women run half of our countries and companies and men run half of our homes. I found it interesting that she pointed out that legendary investor, Warren Buffett, stated that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was competing with only half of the population. She then makes the point that that the Warren Buffet’s of her own generation (which, of course, is mine) are still largely enjoying this advantage.
Women face numerous obstacles in the professional world including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination, sexual-harassment, little flexibility for childcare that would allow them to pursue a career while raising a family, too few mentors, on it goes. This is compounded by the fact that according to a 2011 McKinsey report, men are promoted based on potential but women are promoted based on past accomplishments.
In addition to the external barriers erected by society, what Sanburg really seems to be getting at, is that women are hindered by the barriers that they themselves have erected. She begins with talking about from infancy, how we raise children differently. Girls internalized messages that tell us it is wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, and more powerful than men. We grow up and continue to do the majority of the housework and the childcare once married and we compromise our career goals, even before we have met our partners, if we’re still single. Nothing we haven’t heard before but I do appreciate that she states ,”this is not a list of things other women have done. I have made every mistake on this list. At times I still do.”
I’m not sure I believe her when she makes the case that not all women want careers, not all women want children, not all women want both and that she would never advocate for everyone to have the same objectives. I think she’s advocating pretty damn hard for women to be more ambitious, no matter what their choice, and let’s face it, it’s a token, “Well, if you’ve chosen to raise a family instead of nurturing a career, well…that’s important too…but what the hell! More of you need to get out there and get in!!” She also acknowledges that critics will suggest she has the financial resources to get all the help she needs but she says her advice would been useful to herself long before she even heard of Google or Facebook. I believe her. Ultimately I was inspired by her message:
We can reignite the revolution by internalizing the revolution.