By Deborah Done
One of the most thought-provoking business books I’ve read in recent times is “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is COO of Facebook and was headhunted by Mark Zuckerberg from Google in 2008; she’s only 44 and has two children; she’s fiercely bright, is one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and has an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion. She’s phenomenally successful, a mother and still gets to the gym most days. In that uniquely British “tall poppy syndrome” way, I was fairly sure as I opened the book that I’d find myself disliking her intensely; absolutely not the case.
“Lean In” is positioned as a book that helps professional women achieve their career goals and for men who want to contribute to a more equitable society. So far, so good. The book examines the reasons why women (generally) don’t progress to the upper echelons of the business world, whether those barriers be social, cultural or personal. It sounds as though it might be a dry diatribe on sexual inequality and workplace discrimination. Thankfully, it isn’t. Sandberg uses her own experiences in a surprisingly personal and intimate way to demonstrate how it hard it can be as a woman to progress in the business world. She isn’t made of iron; in fact she is as prone to hang ups and self-doubt as the rest of us. However she has developed strategies to deal with this tendency and she shares them openly ; it’s both useful and inspiring to see her vulnerabilities as well as her strengths. She’s someone who finds solutions.
She feels there are as many internal barriers to why women don’t get to the top in business as there are external ones. Women often lack the self-confidence and drive to advance in the way that men do: “We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve” she says. The process becomes a vicious circle because, often, women who do well in business are perceived as being less well-liked than a man in the same position (ambitious, hard, cold etc.). This can dent self-confidence further and can be another factor in a woman’s career stalling. “Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders, including female leaders themselves,” Sandberg points out.
She speaks of the difficulties in balancing a career she loves with a family whom she loves. It’s clear from the book that family, whether it be her husband, children, parents or siblings, is hugely important to her and is one of the grounding elements in life.
This isn’t, however, just a series of interesting, enlightening and sometimes charming anecdotes about Sandberg’s life. She backs up all of her views with detailed data and research; her rigorous attention to detail and her academic background shine through. She recognises that today’s generation of professional women are in a privileged position in comparison to our mothers and grandmothers. “We stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights we take for granted.” But she also feels, in a sense, the current generation has let these women down. She argues that the feminist revolution has stalled and that women should be fighting harder to progress in the workplace, in a way that works for them. She isn’t scared of championing flexible working, positive childcare policies and parental leave so that women can progress their own careers whilst being mothers, partners, daughters and wives.
I left the book feeling full of admiration for Sandberg and inspired by her positivity and drive. I also came away with many useful ideas and strategies to apply to my own life and personal development. I recommended the book to several friends, male and female; interestingly my male friends found it equally useful and enlightening. Sandberg has a lot to teach us and seems surprisingly accessible despite her success and fame; so why not Lean In and listen to what she has to say?
Link to the book Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg is here.
For more information on Sandberg, why not watch her presentation on TED?