About a month ago, I decided that, instead of talking about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, (and enthusiastically recommending that other people read it because “it was so important”), that I should take my own advice and read it myself. So I did. And I am so glad. Truly. There is a lot here.
If you’ve never heard of Sheryl Sandberg, and you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, here’s the general overview: after several years with Google, Sheryl Sandberg took a leap of faith and accepted a position as COO at a much smaller start-up known as Facebook run by some nerd from Harvard. She did her job, and she did it well, and meanwhile, she continued to be troubled by the continued achievement gap between men and women in the workplace, especially at the highest levels of organizations across the country and around the world. This eventually led her to give a TED talk in 2010 about why there aren’t more women in leadership roles in either government or private enterprise around the world. The video of her talk gained a great deal of momentum, and Sandberg was invited to give the commencement address at Barnard in 2011, a speech in which she reiterated and clarified her thoughts about the importance of preserving a wide range of choices for women in the workforce and at home.To my mind, the book Lean In is the further evolution and crystallization of these ideas. And it is excellent: encouraging, balanced, and packed with common sense delivered with a warmth and generosity of spirit that I find admirable and inspiring.
My main critique of the book is that, if you’ve seen the TED talk and/or have read or seen the Barnard commencement address, the book does not deliver anything remarkably new or surprising. In some ways, I feel that I had read the book before I read the book. However, the common-sense progression of the ideas from the first chapter to the last makes the book very valuable and helpful as a comprehensive resource, as a centralized compilation of the ideas that Sandberg has shared over the last three years. All of her key ideas are here, plus additional (and well-cited) research and links to resources for further exploration and discussion.
I would give this book five stars (out of five, just for the sake of clarification. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me). Or else, I would give it “five successfully negotiated pay raises with clearly defined guidelines for maternity leave” out of five. Because this book is badass and hopeful and inspiring and smart. And more than that, it’s well-researched and practical and clearly reasoned. No doubt, there will be a lot of criticism leveled at Sandberg, but I feel comfortable in saying that she takes the time to consider and weigh different opinions and perspectives in this book, and her critics would do well to read the book carefully before jumping to conclusions about where Sandberg is coming from.
So, in short, if you are at all interested in making the world a more equitable place, READ IT. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to make lots of gender equality jokes with your friends of any sex or gender expression. I find it fun to earnestly encourage my friends to “lean in” to whatever mundane household task they are currently engaged in completing:
“Are you leaning in to making that piece of toast? What will you tell your grandchildren if they knew you weren’t giving it your all?!?! Sheryl Sandberg says you need to lean in!!”
So that’s fun.