Ok, I finally did it. I got around to reading Lean In. And I’m not afraid to admit it. I liked it. I think it could have been about half as long and made all the same points, but I say that about pretty much all nonfiction books I read. I appreciate how many personal anecdotes Sheryl Sandberg chose to include – things many of us wouldn’t tell our friends about, let alone the public. Most of all, I really identified with many of her experiences.
As a woman in two male-dominated professions (the military and engineering), I am used to a lot of the things she talked about – frequently being the only woman in the room, often being the most senior woman in the room, dealing with bosses who, while supportive, have never even thought about things like where someone can pump breast milk.
I definitely agree with her about women needing to support each other more. We are often our own worst enemies. The phrase “mommy war” shouldn’t even exist, except perhaps in a forms such as “the mommy war against drunk driving” or “the mommy war on poor health.” It certainly shouldn’t be a war we fight amongst ourselves if we ever hope to make any progress.
As a working-outside-the-home mother with a working-inside-the-home/grad student spouse, I appreciate how well she addresses the need for marriages to be true partnerships. I also liked her point that there need to be two approaches for things to really change: women need to be respected in the workplace, and men need to be respected for the work they do at home. Her two-pronged approach to obstacles women face is good, too. In a nutshell, we need to work on squashing that inner voice of self-doubt to be as (outwardly at least) confident as men, and we need workplaces that can fully support and encourage both genders to succeed.
The only thing that really bothered me was her discussion of choices. Not everyone can choose to hire a nanny. Not everyone can have one parent in grad school and one working, or one at home and one working. She talks about this at length, and acknowledges that not everyone is fortunate enough to have all these choices, but she does it in a detached way that shows how far removed she is from understanding what it’s like to really not have a choice.
She has never not been able to afford the very best care and schools for her kids. She can’t personally fathom being in the situation of childcare costing more than one of the parents can make working full time, putting them in the unbelievable situation where both parents can’t afford to work because it’s cheaper for one to stay home. I’m glad she talks about it at all, but it stands out as the section of the book where she’s not speaking from personal experience. And, I’ll admit, I haven’t been there either. I’m not rich, I’ll never be able to hire a nanny or send my kid to a fancy school, but good daycare is definitely within my reach. Affordable and flexible daycare is probably one of the biggest things holding us back from equality in the workplace.
A lot of the book was sort of moot for me, too. Women in the military always lean in. By definition, we have to. So I guess while the book had me nodding my head a lot in agreement, most of it was just acknowledging things I already knew or had never had a choice about. We always sit at the table. If we have to be at a meeting, we darned well better be participating. Taking the hard jobs is a requirement, not an option. We take charge of ourselves, our jobs, our people, and our equipment, and it’s just what we do – what we are all trained to do, men and women alike, from day one.
The book was very well researched and documented, which I appreciated. I always like seeing so many footnotes, and so much acknowledgement of the many professionals and researchers who contributed to a book like this. She makes her points and backs them up. She gives advice that is, for the post part, useful and practical. And she ‘puts her money where her mouth is’ with LeanIn.org.
Overall, I would recommend reading the book to both men and women – especially men. It would be very eye-opening for a lot of my male bosses and coworkers, that’s for sure. But, as with all advice books, take it all with a grain of salt. Not all advice works for all people. The book made me think, though, which is why I can recommend it. I like stuff that makes me pause and reflect, and to draw parallels with some of my own experiences – and even my mistakes.
Have you read it? What did you think? Which parts did you think were useful, and what did you think was unhelpful or out-of-touch?