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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sheryl Sandberg. Has anything been more controversial in the first half of 2013?

I feel that this book needs no introduction, but here goes nothin'. Women still make up a small percentage of CEO's, leaders in government, and overall leadership in the workplace. Why is this? Many reasons. Women tend to be less willing to negotiate things like flex time and salaries. Women are more concerned than men about hurting others' feelings, and we also tend to value being liked which can sometimes run counter to being successful. We have a hard time promoting ourselves for fear of looking overconfident and boastful. All of these things that make us awesome women also hold us back in the workplace.

I will lay it out for you--I found this book to be inspiring. I find most of the discussion, and particularly the criticisms, around the book to be annoying and clearly personal. Well, ok, fine, it's a personal subject--Sandberg is calling us out. So be it. My experience has shown me that most people willing to criticize Sandberg's book didn't even bother reading it. Just to be clear, I don't care about your opinion based on some news show interviewer's opinion of their assistant's opinion of the book. If you didn't read the book then you don't get to have a place at the unhappy table until you do.

I found this book to be inspiring for many reasons. I approached it with an open mind, choosing to ignore what I had been hearing from the press, from blogs, and from Sandberg herself through interviews and sound bites. Sandberg lays out the problems as she sees it--and it's not just women to blame. It's a systemic problem that we lack women leaders in every field. I didn't feel that Sandberg was specifically referring to the tech world, the social media world, or corporate America. I could see her words fitting into academia, the arts, and non-profits. I have experienced first-hand the criticism and the alienation that happens when I, a woman, act like a man in the workplace. People want, and expect, women to be nice, to roll over, and to make way for those bigger and stronger than us. I am thankful that someone finally put into words, "Make it stop." The best advice I ever received, and to this day still sticks in my head, was from my supervisor after I received a nasty post-workshop evaluation. He told me that if I wasn't pissing a few people off, then I wasn't doing my job. He was right.

I felt that Sandberg acknowledged her privilege, which is another criticism leveled at her. She has the ability to hire quality childcare and she has a loving and willing partner at home who also makes it his business to be home for dinner as much as possible and to be a present and contributing adult in the house. I am not sure that this is so much privilege as it is something they have built and worked their way toward. I felt Sandberg is advocating for all women for all the choices they want to make.

I am thankful that someone finally said the things I have been thinking for so long. Stop the "mommy wars"--if staying home and raising your children makes sense for you, then do it. Don't denigrate women who choose to, or have to, work. If moving up the corporate ladder is your speed, then do it and don't feel guilty about not being around all the time. It's about quality time, not the quantity of time. (Trust me, I know this, I am an educational psychologist.) Why don't we as women stop bashing each other? If the CEO of Yahoo wants to take only two weeks of maternity, let her. It's her life, her baby, and her choice. She isn't lessening the amount of maternity leave for her employees. In fact, she recently increased it. Let's all stop criticizing each other's choices and focus on moving forward together as a group.

I think over time this book will seal its place in feminist history. Just you wait.

Hard copy below.

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