3 days after I finished reading Lean In: Women Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg I’d already recommended it to my sister, sister-in law and closest friend and since writing this review I’ve probably recommended it to handfuls more acquaintances. Sheryl Sandberg is the type of woman you admire, want to be, or at least want to be friends with. She is an inspiration. I apologise now to anyone that knows me – I am likely to “bang on” about this book for quite some time.
Those that do know me, or read my last book review know that I am pretty cynical, especially when it comes to Leadership books or self-help material. I had Lean In on my Kindle since it came out last year and have had very little desire to read it. I purchased it because it fitted in well with The Leaders Club theme of “Women in Business; Where the level playing field”, but as it had not been recommended to me I presumed it was going to be a standard mantra of how to juggle it all, and a guilt trip if you are not succeeding in your juggling antics.
It is not. It is an extremely well thought out and researched view on women’s and men’s place in the modern world. It questions why women aren’t in more leadership roles, obviously tackling sexual discrimination but also investigating social barriers, the barriers that women create for themselves and the invisible ties that can be broken if we want them to be. Sandberg professes that the status quo isn’t acceptable, and how it may be too late to make real change in this generation, but as mothers (and fathers, and aunts and uncles..) it is our responsibility to assist that change for the next. In her mind there is no excuse to not be striving for true 50/50 equality.
Sandberg managed to spark my interest from the very first page and maintain it throughout. I did not speed-read the book but savoured its narrative. Sandberg is obviously a highly intelligent mind; credited for being a driving force behind Google’s move from billions on paper, to billions in the bank, and 5 years ago taking her experience to Facebook to transform them into a cash generating business instead of a social novelty. You don’t get to be COO of Facebook without strong intelligence; and in this book, and in her preceding TedTalk Sandberg uses her intelligence to pose thought provoking questions, and answers, to how women are perceived in society, how we perceive ourselves, and how if these unnecessary stereotypical constraints where not in place how the world could benefit from 100% of its intelligent species, rather than the meagre usage we are currently employ.
Throughout the book I often nodded at Sandberg forethought and smiled at her candid appreciation how we have got to where we are today; the assumptions put upon men and women at search an early age that transpire and transcend through society and life and the unnecessary limitations that women put on themselves.
The day after I finished Lean-in I met a friend who has just gone back to work after Maternity leave, and who is applying for a new high powered position; a position she deserves, is more than capable of getting ans succeeding in. She was doing what women do best, playing down their current successes, worrying about changes that haven’t occurred yet, and presuming that if she got the position that it was her how would be having to make all the necessary adjustments in order to remain at being a great mother, wife, friend, sister, lover… Of course, I told her about my new favourite subject: Lean-in. “Read the book” I cried. “What every you do, before the interview please read the book And make sure Dave reads it as well”. I have actually now ordered her, and me, a hard back copy so that she has no excuses.
As I read this on the Kindle I couldn’t flick through the pages to see what was coming next. About half way through, noticing I still had 50% and I was worried. I was thoroughly enjoying it, but Sandberg had said all that was needed to say, dragging it on would ruin it for me. However the last 45% of the book is full of citations and reference points for the hundreds of facts and figures and survey results quoted throughout. The research is current and relevant, adding weight to the book and providing you with the feeling that you are not being given a feminist pep talk, but instead being presented with unequivocal facts.
This book will stay with me, and I am certain I will read it again. I tend to by throw-away books on the kindle, but I have already ordered a hard back copy so that I can read it at leisure in the future. So that I remind myself of the sense that Sandberg pens, at my own foibles and ingrained behaviour, and my responsibility to change it to help build a true 50/50 equality in the future.
I encourage everyone to read it.
Sandberg’s TedTalk can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders
Review by Shona Fletcher