Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In

My 2017 Reading Challenge is making me move away from my usual style of books and dip into other genres. I needed to read ‘a book with career advice’ and ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ has been on my radar since it was written.  I read something Sheryl Sandberg wrote more recently about grief – after losing her husband suddenly last year – and I thought it very well written, the crux of it being that option A for her life plan was no longer there, so she had to kick the ass out of option B. Anyway – I digress – but her style of writing made me want to read her first book ‘Lean In’  (her second book, ‘Option B’ – the title from the above anecdote – is also out now, so that is on my TBR pile).

I had read in the press that ‘Lean In’ has been criticised for being too white and too privileged – but given I fall in to both of those categories, I didn’t let that put me off.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a massive cultural phenomenon and its title has become an instant catchphrase for empowering women. The book soared to the top of bestseller lists internationally, igniting global conversations about women and ambition. Sandberg packed theatres, dominated opinion pages, appeared on every major television show and on the cover of Time magazine, and sparked ferocious debate about women and leadership.

Ask most women whether they have the right to equality at work and the answer will be a resounding yes, but ask the same women whether they’d feel confident asking for a raise, a promotion, or equal pay, and some reticence creeps in.

The statistics, although an improvement on previous decades, are certainly not in women’s favour – of 197 heads of state, only twenty-two are women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally, and in the world of big business, a meagre eighteen of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business – draws on her own experience of working in some of the world’s most successful businesses and looks at what women can do to help themselves, and make the small changes in their life that can effect change on a more universal scale.”

Overall I really enjoyed it. The geek in my liked the fact that every quote of facts and figures was cross referenced to its source – with a large chunk of the back of the book housing these references.

I found, for a lot of it, running our own small business meant it wasn’t applicable – and would have been much more applicable when I worked for one of the Big 4 (although back then it was Big 6 #showingmyage) accountancy firms.  Specifically things like mentoring.  I think this should be required reading for everyone, male and female,  in their early 20s before they make big life decisions and particularly those entering the corporate world.

Some of it I have witnessed in action – women making career decisions based on the fact they would probably get married and have kids in the future – rather than seizing the career progression at the time and worrying about the ‘what ifs’ later.  There were also simple suggestions about asking for what you want!  If you want part time work but the dream role you’re being offered is only full time then can you ask for a part time option to be considered?  Or change your support network outside of work?  I’m really lucky that my husband is massively hands on with the kids and around the house (in fact his cleaning OCD is legendary!) – but I have friends who have jobs as full on and high pressured as their husband’s, but still it’s them who have to sort the ill child / weekend playdates / shopping / cooking / buying gifts for parties – often with a side order of sleep deprivation thrown in.  Having a partnership at home is a key factor to a woman – and I guess mother in particular – having the ability and will to lead outside the home.

There were some interesting discussions about mothers who go out to work, or chose to work in the home.  Before I had kids I though stay at home Mums had an easy life – then I realised I was going to work for a rest!  The over riding issue is that women should support each other and not judge other people’s life choices.  Sheryl quoted a woman in the US Navy who’d initially been concerned about being the only woman on a submarine – but the blokes on board were all great and respectful of her authority – it was the men’s wives who were horrible – and judgmental – to her.

The partnership Sheryl had with her husband Dave also shines out right through the book – which was made all the more poignant knowing that between this being written and me reading it, he’d passed away.

I think the ending of the book sums it up perfectly:

“I look toward the world I want for all children – and my own.  My greatest hope is that my son and my daughter will be able to choose what to do with their lives without external or internal obstacles slowing them down or making them question their choices.  If my son wants to do the important work if raising children full-time, I hope he is respected and supported. And if my daughter wants to work full-time outside her home, I hope she is not just respected and supported, but also liked for her achievements.
I hope they both end up exactly where they want to be.  And when they find where their true passions lie, I hope they both lean in – all the way.”