Current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been touted as one of the top 5 most powerful women in the world (to her surprise!). Whether that appointment was a bit exaggerated or not, she clearly has been in powerful positions at large organizations. She has held her own, and “had it all” professionally and personally, which is often treated as a myth that women can never achieve. Her book “Lean In” goes over the advice she has received along the way, revealing some of her own failings towards accomplishment, and includes her own advice too.
As a young woman who is already interested in social movements and gender studies, I’d researched many of the ideas that Sandberg brought up in this book. However, I had never seen some of them pointed so directly and personally to a female’s perspective. Sheryl Sandberg allowed her personal examples to give a real word connection to her ideas. I found myself nodding along in many of the early chapters where she discusses women’s propensity to downplay their abilities, dismiss their accomplishments and avoid opportunities to advance out of fear.
She urges everyone to begin by being more honest about their personal life or feelings in the workplace, and true to her word she does this throughout the book herself. It’s extremely refreshing to hear that a woman who is at the top has the same insecurities. Don’t think this book is merely whining about gender bias or unfair workplace practices. These are highlighted briefly when appropriate to get the reader to examine how these affect job interviews, negotiations, teamwork and more. Sandberg goes beyond this with discussions of real solutions that have worked for her or other women. She explains what the pitfalls were, and provides steps that can help to overcome them.
I appreciate that Sandberg acknowledged, without placing blame, that women can add to the glass ceiling by also believing the stereotypes that others have about them. In some ways this does involve looking at how men react in certain ways or get treated and finding ways to mirror them. In others, she describes methods women can even use the stereotypes and gender bias to find the best approach to accomplish their goals.
Some readers may be upset by women being told to walk this tightrope, but that anger should be directed at the system. Currently most women are already doing this, it’s just their rope is a very short one because they feel there’s no incentive to be more ambitious. If more of us, (who are legitimately interested), make progress in moving upwards in big companies, there will be more consideration of women in business and less need to conform. This will even open up opportunities for women who are motivated in other areas besides upper management or corporate life.