Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

[book notes] - Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (@LeanInOrg)

I volunteered to read Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" for my women's group at work, we have a sort of book club format where one person reads and presents what they find, and we really wanted this one on the list because it's gotten so much publicity. I was a little nervous... it took a long time to get it from the library, a hint that it might be a slow read. I'd read some critics that accused her of telling women their problems were all their fault. I don't even like facebook. But I started in anyway.

And what do you know, I LOVED this book, and think Sheryl Sandberg is just like me, there were so many chapters that just put into words the unorganized thoughts I've had in the back of my mind!

Just the chapter on mentorship alone is worth the price of the book, which I'll be buying because I got it back to the library ASAP for the next person. I've heard it stressed all over the place that to be successful in the workplace you need a MENTOR, had people in the women's group ask when we'd start a mentor program, match people up with senior leaders by designing some kind of eharmony for the office, and it just felt wrong to me. Well Sandberg thinks that's wrong too! You can't go up to a perfect stranger and say "Will you spend 30 minutes a week giving me career advice?" That's not a mentor, she explains, that's a therapist! No, you have to do things to stand out, senior leaders want a part to play in careers they think will BE exciting. And when I think about it, some of my favorite VPs at my company who've put me on awesome projects have made me feel like that... like I am going places, and they want to help because they're happy for me. It's an awesome feeling! And sure, they're around for advice along the way. To me a mentor was always someone who knew me well, who I could call up to bounce an idea whenever... not someone who crowned me with a tiara that glittered "you shall be mentored!" in some awkward formal ceremony.

Another issue with my women's group... we survey to ask about topics they want to hear about and "work-life balance" is always near the top of the list. It drove me crazy for years... men could take a day off work with a sick kid, and it was just what they did. But if I took a day off it was WORK-LIFE BALANCE, like it had a file, it was a newsweek article, we had to discuuuuus it. It bugged me but I couldn't explain why.

Well there are whole chapters in "Lean In" that bring up the fact that women are conditioned from very young ages to believe that this will be a issue, that "work-life" are on opposite ends of the scale, and Sandberg wisely notes, "Who would choose work?" Jessica Valenti even compiled an entire blog post of pictures from the media that portray Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies, showing those silly greedy overworked women who tried to "have it all" and only ended up screaming into their blackberries while their kid's milk spills onto the floor. The world says that this is what life will be for us if we try to be ambitious. Well, it's crap. No one really thinks we can "have it all", it's economically impossible... what we need to focus on is having all of what's important. When you've got a new baby, take maternity leave and totally unplug, they'll survive without you. When you want to go back to work, the kid can go to daycare, many studies have shown that they turn out just fine. Make your partner an equal partner, I've known too many women who wouldn't leave for a conference because that would mean their husbands (gasp!) would have to watch the kids ALL WEEKEND... what if something HAPPENED? Well they're not criminals, they're the men you chose to marry and make babies with. They should be able to keep their own children alive for 72 hours.

There's even a whole chapter called "Don't leave before you leave" where she discusses the sad trend of women just getting out of college who already throttle back their careers because someday they want to be married with kids... and yes, I've seen it, and I've seen 23-year-olds in my women's group putting "work life balance" on the topic request list. Sandberg points out that if you're ambitious early on, you're only putting yourself in a better, more flexible, higher paying position for when you do have kids. You will really have choices. Don't look for laid-back positions with little responsibility just because sometime in the next decade someone who you haven't even met will make you pregnant. In the first chapter she poses the question, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" Afraid of being overworked, afraid of being that woman in the trope with the crying attention-starved baby, afraid of the world judging you... if you could just be awesome and show the world what your brain was capable of and what you worked hard for all those years in school, what would you stop holding back?

Are there things that need to change about society? Sure! And there are things to know about society, bullshit double-standards that have been documented by researchers, that will empower us. And there's a lot we women can do as individuals in our careers. "Lean In" addresses all three as solutions to help more women into leadership careers. Reading it made me feel more ambitious, and proud to be trying to emerge as a leader at my company. It made me want to help others more and make sure I'm developing the few people in my little team. I think everyone should read this book now, this year when we're all talking about it, and just see where the ideas take us.
Tags: books, books - best of, books - business, books - feminism, career, feminism
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