I recently read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. Before reading this book I, shamefully, fell into a group of people that cringe at the word feminist. Sandberg notes that there is a tendency to shy away from being labeled a feminist because of the “negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating” person (473). I was afraid this book would be too preachy, but it was honest, down-to-earth and entirely relatable. Lean In doesn’t just deal with the empowerment of women. Instead, it offers a lot of leadership and professional advice – for both men and women.
Women in the Workforce
There were three things in particular I found interesting regarding Sandberg’s commentary on women in the workforce. A report from Hewlett-Packard showed that “women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements” (207). Therefore, women need to shift from thinking, “’I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it’” (207). While applying for jobs my senior year of college I ran into this situation. There were many jobs in which I did not fit all of the requirements and I remember one of my male friends telling me to apply for it anyway. When I saw the requirements I did not think ‘I am not ready to do that.’ I was hesitant to apply because I respond to straightforward directions and don’t like to play games. If an employer takes the time to think of specific requirements for a position, my instinct is to respect that and not waste his or her time, but if other equally “unqualified” people are applying for these jobs -- and may very well get them -- I am putting myself at a disadvantage. This is a dilemma I am sure to come across again as I look for jobs after my time as LC.
The second point I found interesting was that the correlation of success and likeability differ for men and women -- “When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less” (130). Of course there are exceptions, but it is important to be aware of this tendency – both in you and in others.
Thirdly, women tend to plan too far ahead when it comes to starting a family. They pass up job opportunities that may require more hours or frequent travel thinking they are putting themselves in a better position to start a family… someday. Some women do this before they even have a boyfriend – let alone a husband. Sandberg says that, “the months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in” (315). I’m glad I read Lean In because when I come to that point in my life, I will make a conscious effort to lean in and not limit myself before it is necessary.
Professional & Leadership Advice
There was also a lot of professional and leadership advice to be taken from Lean In. One piece of advice when finding a job is to focus less on career levels and more on fast growth and the company’s mission. Sandberg points out that even if you are accepting a lower level position, you might actually be moving forward because you are happier and have an opportunity to learn new skills (202).
Her second piece of advice deals with “learning to withstand criticism” and she notes that, “we should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticized evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on” (164). Some people are better at it than others, but I think everyone experiences some level of hurt when they are criticized. Admittedly, I sometimes struggle with criticism. It is not because I think I am infallible or because I don’t respect or agree with my criticizer. It’s because I subconsciously link criticism to not being liked. Mark Zuckerberg told Sheryl Sandberg that “[her] desire to be liked by everyone would hold [her] back” (169). I preoccupy myself with wanting to please others and be liked in return when I should take criticism as is and choose to either accept it and adapt or to not. Similarly, my decisions and behaviors should be less concerned with my personal relationship with others and more concerned with my relationship with others insofar as it helps the progress of the organization’s mission and my job responsibilities. Hopefully the personal relationships will follow.
Lastly, Sandberg suggests a method of setting professional goals. There is a pressure many college graduates feel to have everything figured out and to know what they want to do with the next four or so decades of their life. Sandberg did not get to be COO of Facebook by some carefully crafted plan, so she recommends two flexible goals, “a long-term dream and an eighteen-month plan” (176). Further, the “long-term dream does not have to be realistic or even specific” (182). My long-term dream is to help people and to have the autonomy to do so in ways I think are best. One of my current ideas to accomplish that is to spread multimedia education to several countries by starting a business – the details of which are not fully worked out and wouldn’t be divulged on a blog regardless. My eighteen-month plan is to do my best as Leadership Consultant by inspiring and empowering as many Alpha Delta Pi sisters as I can to help their chapters grow, have fun along the way, learn from my mistakes, and apply for jobs towards the end of my term. I plan to get a job in event planning for fundraisers or non-profit campaign management.
*Page numbers based on the eBook