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VL | Book Review | Sheryl Sandberg | Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

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I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead over the course of a week.

Like Sandberg said this is not really a memoir or a career book but a feminist manifesto, which sounds a bit old fashion, our generation’s answer to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, but that’s exactly what it is. Having worked at two Fortune 500 companies, Google and Facebook, and holding chief positions at both, Sandberg’s more than qualified to dole out career advice (which she does), and talk about her personal struggles (which she does with humor and wit), but the main message is how women need to start sitting at the table, the boardroom table, and start leaning in.

After giving a TED Talk about ‘Why We Have So Few Women Leaders’ which has since attracted over 2 million views, Sandberg realized that she had a lot more to say about the lack of visible women at the top of the corporate world. She needed more than fifteen minutes, so she wrote a book. In it she outlines the main criteria to having a rewarding work life, demonstrates how successful women are deemed more unlikable by men and women (Google the Heidi/Howard study performed by the Columbia Business School) and, above all, how it’s necessary to have a partner at home that’s an equal partner.

Sandberg has publicly admitted that she was apprehensive about writing a book at first, even giving the TED Talk made her second guess herself because she knew the moment she did she would be branded as a “women executive” which, even now in 2013, is a rarity in the corporate world.  Only 21 Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Why is that? Why has the women’s movement stalled?

This is largely a book about dispelling myths about the working woman.  Two dimensional portrayals of working women are nothing new. If you’ve seen the movie Working Girl (1988), you’ll know what I’m talking about. And what about the myth of doing it all? Sandberg finds herself asking, how to balance work and motherhood when being a mother is already a full-time job?

While the book has garnered positive reactions—Sandberg has been hailed as the new face of modern feminism and journalists are questioning whether Sandberg is the new Gloria Steinem, it has also received major backlash. And what’s most disheartening was to see most of that criticism voiced by other women.

Sandberg has been criticized for being an elitist. Since she’s the top dog her view of the work dynamic between men and women is intriguing but also alienates women who aren’t in the workplace. Forget women struggling to get promoted from entry-level jobs. There are women out there who even have trouble getting their foot in the door.

Maybe part of the criticism stems from the book’s overreaching effort to be so much at once. A memoir, a career management guide, and a manifesto. If it was only a memoir we wouldn’t be so harsh about Sandberg relaying career anecdotes, but since she’s also speaking to women directly, it seems as if you haven’t experienced her level of success, you aren’t doing your part in resolving workplace gender bias.  But its influence is undeniable. Sandberg has recently been named as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. As of right now, Lean In has been on the New York Times Best-Seller’s List for five weeks straight. Some people might be outraged, but it’s certainly a hot topic of discussion.

Personally I love this book. And what impresses me most is not her direct prose and meticulous attention to details (the book is loaded with statistics and research that really exposes the unequal gender dynamic between men and women), but the way the book leads to an epilogue which encourages us to keep the conversation going. There’s a Lean In website that espouses the same message in the book: it’s time to start leaning into our careers because no one is going to place a tiara on your head and congratulate you on a job well done. If you want power, you have to take it.

All the proceeds from the book go to Sandberg’s Lean In community and various other charities that support women. So let’s level out the playing field and rather than waiting for things to change, let’s take action.

Twitter: @LeanInOrg

Facebook: Lean In

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