So my weekly appointments at the allergist’s office are my only opportunity to read things that are not required these days, so for the past few weeks I’ve been reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I borrowed this book during a book swap that I went to back in February and finally picked it up. I was interested in reading Lean In because of the Ban Bossy campaign and because I heard all of the criticism, most of it bad, that Sheryl Sandberg received after its release. Much of the criticism I heard involved women raking her over the coals for not understanding the level of privilege that she has as a white, educated, married, wealthy woman who can afford good childcare. The other criticism I heard was from conservatives who harped that women like Sandberg are the cause for the death of the nuclear family. I was curious about what she had to say, so I read the book. Though the book has some issues, I will say that after I was about four chapters in I started to believe that a lot of the criticism she received was unfair and for the wrong reasons. Many of the issues with Sandberg’s argument in Lean In are common mistakes made by a first-time writer, which at the time she was.
Before I go on, I should first tell you her point. Sandberg’s point in Lean In is that in order to achieve equality for women in the workplace and in the home we must close the leadership ambition gap. In order to close the leadership ambition gap women must lean in, meaning that women must push forward steadfastly despite any doubts they have about whether they can do it in order to become leaders in their fields. One of her main reasons for the leadership ambition gap is that she says that if a man and a woman of equal talent and equal education start out in the workplace at the same time, companies will invest more in the man and he will rise in position. The reason: because companies figure, based on precedence, that a woman will leave the workplace or slow down her career in order to raise her family. And every woman who opts-out makes it more difficult for the women who don’t to get ahead.
She gets to the point in Chapters 4-9. She spends the first three chapters loosely framing and defending the argument before she makes it. She acknowledges that she is white, went to the right school (Harvard Business School), got the right job straight out of college, married the right white man (he was the CFO of Yahoo), has means to afford nannies, and has a platform to have an opinion. It is very true that Sandberg probably would not have been able to write this book if these were not the conditions of her life and career. To me, however, these things do not discount her points. I think she could have been better received if she framed the book as being specifically for women working in corporate America, because for women working in higher education, non-profit organizations, and government the path is very different. One of the chapters is called “It’s a Jungle Gym not a Ladder,” but for women outside of corporate America, often it just is. In my opinion, when you work outside of corporate America the marriage of ambition and passion is more complicated. However, she wrote from what she knows, and for that I can’t fault her.
of my favorite points from the book are: Don’t leave before you leave and we must raise both the ceiling and the floor. With the former she talks about women who slow down their careers to prepare for a family while they are still single and with the latter she talks about making sure that women’s most basic needs are met in the workplace.
What she ultimately concludes is that she wants women to lean in no matter what they choose to do with their lives. The key word is choose. She wants women to feel as if they have real choice to either be CEOs or stay at home moms. I don’t know Sheryl Sandberg; I only read her book, but I can’t burn her at the stake for advocating for choice and not ultimatum.