By the time I picked up my iPad to start reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I had already heard a number of misconceptions about the book from people who had never even read the book. Have I mentioned how annoying it is when people criticize a book they have not yet read? Before I get into the content of the book I want to mention and rebut a few of the misconceptions I’ve seen floating around the web:
1. Sandberg doesn’t understand that not everyone can lean in. Actually Sandberg makes it very clear throughout the book that not all women want to or should be expected to “lean in.” Her point is to lean in to your career until you can’t, for whatever reason. Don’t turn down a promotion or a big project because of what “might” happen in the next five years. In no way is Sandberg arguing against taking care of your kids when you feel compelled to do that.
2. Sandberg wants women to be leaders and some women just don’t want to do that. Sandberg clearly states in her book that she wants everyone to have the freedom to choose what they want to do. That means a stop to the mommy wars, let’s respect each other regardless if we work or stay at home with the family. It also means we need to be more accepting of men who are the primary caregivers. Don’t shun the stay at home dad; he gets an award in my book.
3. She is so successful/rich/ivy league educated that there is no way any typical person can relate to her. I call the BS flag on that. Someone can be too successful? I know most of us will probably never be in the same room as someone like Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg, but does that mean we can’t learn something from their journey? Absolutely not. When you start discounting someone’s story because of their education or their income level you really diminish the world around you. Don’t do that.
With that said, here are some quick thoughts I had on Sandberg’s book:
Sandberg is an amazing and unique person; it isn’t hard to see how she got to the COO position at Facebook. She has an amazing background but she is also extremely analytical and self-aware. I love that she gets intensely personal in her book, discussing crying in front of Mark Zuckerberg and parenting struggles.
Regardless where you are in the spectrum of career/life I think there are important lessons in this book about gender and stereotypes. Sandberg is at her most effective when she advocates for being open at work, whether it is turning down a promotion and giving the real reason or acknowledging that emotions spill out and that’s okay.
It is here to where she crosses into some “don’t try this at your own work” territory. She recounts more than a couple stories of her own personal disclosures such as telling Larry Summers she didn’t want to take a job in Washington DC because of her ex-husband. She also recounts her experience of asking some pretty “hair raising” questions such as when she wanted to put a female employee in charge of a project and the employee seemed reluctant. Sandberg came out and just asked “are you and your partner planning on starting a family? Is that why you are hesitant?”
I love that she can ask questions like the above and not have HR screaming for her head. Unfortunately not many companies are as open as Facebook. Which is why I would say to proceed with caution before having these kinds of conversations. I love the honesty and openness but some organizations aren’t ready for that level of disclosure.
The most important thing this book can do is to start a conversation about changing the workplace. Leaders and employees need to be aware of gender stereotypes and how those can negatively affect the decisions we make at work but the onus isn’t only on our organizations and the people running them. It is on us as individuals to build that awareness and start making the organizations we want.
When I put my iPad down I was energized and inspired by Sandberg’s story and her call to action. Working in HR we are uniquely blessed with the opportunity to take her message back to our companies and contribute to building better organizations. I think if you read this book you will walk away with the same energy and enthusiasm that I did. This is definitely not a book to be missed!