You Go Girl: A Reflection on Sheryl Sandberg’s New Book, Lean In

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.

Cover of Lean In by Sheryl SandbergIf 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.

For more information, you can also check out the Lean In Facebook page or homepage.

7 replies on “You Go Girl: A Reflection on Sheryl Sandberg’s New Book, Lean In”

I read it recently and also really thought it was worth the read. I had been pretty skeptical initially: worried that the Lean In title implied a little much boot-strapism. That said, she does a really good job of being even handed about the responsibilities of women and men, employer and employee, and spousal relationships. I will say, I think she does gloss over the raging inequality which separates the job roles she spends most of her time on and the reality of 90% of the women in the workplace. While her common sense approach is thoughtful and a good way to approach work life, it does not necessarily fit all circumstances, a point she makes only very briefly.

I loved the book though. I’ve recommended it to all of the women in my life, and I really hope more books will be written in this vein that are maybe a little more democratic in their approach to women’s professional experiences.

Yes, I think this is a good point. Certainly, Sandberg’s educational and professional background in some ways makes it hard for the majority of women to resonate one hundred percent with her story, (if I understood your point correctly.) Still, I think that her belief that ANYONE can find work that they love and strive to do it the best that they can is, at least ideally, a universally applicable message.This is true regardless of whether the work is high profile or matches up with traditional definitions of professional “success”. In addition, she speaks to how we can support one another (through friendships, partnerships, romantic relationships, mentorship) in finding and pursuing such work wholeheartedly. To me, that is the core message of the book: “lean in” to whatever it is that you choose to do in your life. Do it well, and don’t hold back. Or something along those lines. Thoughts? Once again, I totally see your point. Just adding some extra thoughts on top!

I agree with all that you said; in particular I also connected with the emphasis on support and “leaning in.” You hit the nail on the head of why I recommended this book to every woman I know. I still think that the leaning in comes much easier to women of privilege; I’m sure most of us have worked low paying jobs. We know at that level we are often considered replaceable (not always though!). What does leaning in look like for those of us in these types of positions? I really do think her ideas are right on – as you put it, ideal even. She manages to rally women around taking responsibility and supporting one another while also calling out systemic inequalities. But the realities for most women who are working today might not be as conducive to leaning in as her reality is. I guess my point is, I don’t think she’s wrong (and I love the message), but maybe what I think would be really ideal is if her book pushes the conversation into a space where we can discuss what leaning in looks like for the majority of women, not just the ones at the top. :)

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