Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LEAN IN: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In  is author Sheryl Sandberg’s  handbook for contemporary women, to guide us in the 21st century work force.   A graduate of Harvard, Sandberg's own resume is impressive: she was the director of global sales at Google, and is  currently Facebook's COO. 

In the book, she reveals her own challenges in the workplace.  For instance, Lean In begins during her second pregnancy, while  at Google.  She had to  “waddle” from the parking lot to her office.  When she learned that Yahoo had special parking for pregnant staff members, she  requested special parking at Google.  She got her request.  (Google has a reputation for being a  phenomenal  place to work at: free food from several scrumptious menus; you can bring your pet to work; and first-rate child care.  So it’s surprising that no one anticipated the parking lot issue.)

Lean In is the  expanded version from a TEDtalk speech Sandberg gave in 2010. Some of the anecdotes she shares  are of how she settled her Facebook contract, her first  “formal review,”  and an episode of sexual harassment.

The book, Sandberg says, is a “feminist manifesto.”  She asks women to  “lean in”—or assertively pursue—their careers, since women tend to be less comfortable with leadership positions.  As a result, fewer  go on to become leaders.  She argues that women should be less fearful to take on career challenges—despite  issues of  “gender-bias,” sexual harrassment, and work/family balance.

Sandberg  acknowledges that we have made strides, but that we need more gender  equality in a wide array of industries.  In addition, the job market has changed so that, as  her Facebook colleague says,  “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”

Moreover,  she advises women that  “adopting two concurrent goals: a long-term dream and an eighteen-month plan” is a good idea.  Both young and mature women should establish goals and learn new skills.   Also, they should get feedback; build relationships;  get good advice; and reach out by offering to help.  

For women, the problem of getting a mentor is especially challenging, according to Sandberg.   She also addresses the issue of honest communication in  the workplace:  to illustrate that point, she cites another Facebook colleague, who told CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “My manager is bad!”

“Communication,” she concludes,  “works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity. . .”

On finding a spouse, she writes:  “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is to date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the committment-phobic boys, the crazy boys.  But do not marry them. . . .  When it comes time to settle down find someone who wants an equal partner.   Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated, and ambitious.”

Lastly, Sandberg shares  the anecdote of the little girl who wanted to be an astronaut  when she grew up.  The boy she liked, however, also  wanted to be an astronaut.   Even this five-year-old girl recognized an ever-present  issue adult women grapple with every workday:  "When we go into space together, who will watch our kids?"

--Yolanda A.  Reid

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