I first learned of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg after I posted her 2010 TED Talk in The Prospect’s staff page. Our esteemed editor Lily then suggested we all read Mrs. Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.” So, I dipped into my paycheck a little to buy the Kindle version and then read it every free moment I had. Before I tell you my thoughts, a little background.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk, she did something that I had never experienced before: clearly address what women experience in the workplace, still to this day. She helped blow wide open the stigmas that are laid against women and showed that progress does have to be made right here in America.
Where does Mrs. Sandberg get her experience? Well, she is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and has a lot of experience working in business and in the tech industry. She is of the generation that was encouraged to work hard and succeed as women in industries. But while her and her generation certainly have helped bring America to a point where we are likely to see women in the office as more than the secretary, we still have a long way to go. The problem it would seem is no longer blatant gender discrimination, but our ingrained biases about gender.
Those biases are what Mrs. Sandberg delves more deeply into in her book. She notes “Women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do… A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.” What on earth is that about? Perhaps that correlates with this tidbit: “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” You know that niggling voice in the back of your mind that is telling you maybe you shouldn’t apply for that leadership position on that board because you don’t have much experience? You might call it smart caution, but it might be a negative message that’s been “internalized.”
But it’s not just about negative messages either. “Lean In” seeks to show us how to tackle the problems we may find in the workplace as women and move forward in a positive and productive manner. Admittedly, Sandberg notes that her advice starts at the higher end of the spectrum of privilege, but has situational advice that any woman in any work environment may experience. It’s an important distinction, seeing as Mrs. Sandberg is a light-skinned woman, from a two-parent household who attended some top-knotch, Ivy League universities. She’s married to a feminist’s ideal guy — he’s her partner in every sense — and her self-confidence may not be impenetrable, but certainly strong enough to get her through many of the day-to-day tough situations any person can experience as a worker. Privileged? Essentially. However, she’s not here to fix every and all problems with her book, but to start the conversation. What’s in that conversation? Gender biases, how to recognize those biases, and how to tackle those biases. How women can hold ourselves back without realizing it, how men can hold women back without realizing it. How we have come to be people who recognize that we shouldn’t discriminate by gender, yet allow our personal sexist biases to affect how we view a gender in the workplace. What do we do about them? How do we change?
This book isn’t about attacking one group or another for their failures in taking down the sexism of the workplace, but instead works to provide all sides with strategies that rectify the wrongs of gender biases in the workplace. The facts are researched and cited with studies, which are my favorite facts to reference. Research and citations folks, those are the bread and butter when fighting such touchy issues. Sheryl Sandberg utilizes her own personal experiences, along with those of other women, to provide as varied and clear landscape of what being a woman in the workplace has been like, is like, and can be. Regardless of the privilege that may come with who Mrs. Sandberg is, or what privileges her friends may or may not have, the book is empowering. Guts may not always guarantee you a job, but they will guarantee you the ability to go out and find one where you aren’t discriminated against in ways you didn’t even know existed because of your gender.
As I said above, “Lean In” is meant to start a conversation on how to change the workplace for the better, and then provide smart strategies for doing so. As a young woman entering her third year of college and third year of working, I feel more emboldened than ever by Mrs. Sandberg’s powerful ideas. What she proposes in this book reminds us that the real world is tough, and tougher for women, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We may still be uncertain of our futures when we graduate, yet with her insistence on remembering to go for the gold in equality and elsewhere in the back of our minds, we can be a step further than we might have been twenty years ago.