Booknotes Lean In Free Agent Economics


There’s the first quarter of the year done. Despite Cyprus and North Korea, irresistably loans the US economy seems to finally have the right vector, if not quite enough acceleration yet. We’re past the fiscal cliff even as sequestration budget cuts roll forward slowly. There’s a new Pope in town (Vatican town, that is) even as the US considers legalizing gay marriage. Yahoo makes a 17-year-old Brit a millionaire many times over while Amazon continues its quest for world domination through yet another controversial acquisition. I’m not linking to all these news issues – Google is our friend. Speaking of Google, Sheryl Sandberg’s book – Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead – has been much in the news too.
Now, if you’re a guy reading this and have not clicked away yet, more power to you. Your opinion matters as much, if not more, as that of women on this subject. So, if you do read through to the end, I applaud you. And, extra props and brownie points if you add a comment.
So, as I mentioned, there’s been a lot of drama about this book in the media. In particular, the reviews by some estimable female journalists piqued my interest.
Maureen Dowd’s Pompom Girl for Feminism
Jodi Kantor’s A Titan’s How-to on Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Susan Faludi’s Sandberg Left Single Mothers Behind
Zoe Williams’ Guardian Books Review
And, then, there’s good old Slate with Lean Where?
[Update: This Harvard Business Review article came out a week after this Booknotes was posted: It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back.]
Ouch. There are plenty more such reviews. And, yes, more negative than positive. It happens, it happens. Sandberg will get over it, I daresay.
Let me preface the actual review portion below by saying that, as someone who’s worked long in the corporate world, in Silicon Valley and, now, as a business owner, I do know exactly what Sheryl Sandberg is writing about. There is still a lot of inequality, bias and prejudice against women leaders, despite the occasional stories about women like Sandberg herself. And, there’s definitely enough blame to go across both genders and many institutions for why the inequality/bias/prejudices persist. So, to those questioning whether we need yet another book about women in leadership, the answer is, um, yes.The Positives
Let me also add that I am generally positive about any high-profile woman using her bully pulpit to raise awareness and increase understanding of challenges/issues. It takes a certain courage to stand up and take the brickbats prognosticating loans that come along with the bouquets. She points out, in the book, “This is me, leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid.” And, she also admits, “Anyone who brings up gender in the workplace is wading into deep and muddy waters. The subject itself presents a paradox, forcing us to acknowledge differences while trying to achieve the goal of being treated the same.”
I also like, very much, clueless loans that Sandberg has launched a Lean In movement of sorts through these Lean In Circles. Because there is a lot more collective wisdom earned through all the many battle scars of working women. And, words alone can only go so far in creating the changes needed. Let’s hope these Circles survive and thrive even after the PR and media hype dies down eventually.
I do not agree with those who say that, by focusing on what women can do to change their attitudes/behaviors, Sandberg is “blaming the victim”. I agree that there’s a lot women can do differently – both in terms of the choices we make throughout our careers and in our attitudes/behaviors when faced with a deck stacked against us. Understanding the need to do things differently does not make us victims to be blamed. So, on this point, Sandberg is very earnestly saying that change starts from within. Nothing wrong with that.The Big Cop-outs
Despite the positives above, my overall sentiments regarding the book are closest to what Faludi and Williams wrote in their respective reviews (see links above). Given Sandberg’s bully pulpit, her vantage point as a powerful executive, even her ties to DC, I was disappointed that she did not address the issues related to social mores, institutional and government policies, lack of support systems for women raising families (single or otherwise), class, etc. Consider, as Williams pointed out (see link above), that the US is 1 of only 4 countries (continents, whatever) that do not have mandated paid maternity leave. We cannot all be like Marissa Mayer and install a nursery for our babies next to our offices, can we? (That said, when I read about it, a part of me happily thought – more power to her and we should all do the same if we have the clout and the money). So, yes, Sandberg chose to either skirt around or ignore many deeper issues and let many off the hook when she could have shone a light further into the depths. There is no getting around this.And This Is What Gets Me The Most……
Sandberg contradicts herself often in this book (like the Slate review points out with several examples). And, listening to her on various NPR and 60 Minutes interviews did not make me feel any better. I understand her need wearability loans to not sound like a rabid, hate-filled feminist. But, the soft-pedaling while taking 2 steps back every time the interviewer asked a general question about what women should do about such-and-such was a bit disconcerting to me. Sandberg seemed to not have the courage of her own convictions when she responded. Whatever she has written or said pneumatocele loans about her personal “leaning in” approaches and choices sounds sincere and genuine – admirable, even. The minute she starts to parlay that into general advice for how other women might do the same, both in the book and in the interviews, her contradictions, lack of conviction and the hackneyed exhortations fall disappointingly flat for me.In Conclusion
In the end, I found myself agreeing entirely with Williams of Guardian Books that “This is not a book about how women can become more equal: this is a book about how women can become more like Sheryl Sandberg. You will be able to decide relatively fast how plausible a goal this is.” And, I would add – for a woman who is young and just starting out in her career, this might be a good book to read as a somewhat inspiring example of a successful woman’s career and the choices that got her there. For other women, like myself, who are leaning in so much already that any more and we’re likely to fall over, this book will do little beyond making us sigh at its many contradictions and cliches. For the rest, well, sadly, this book will do very little to move the age-old barographs loans debate about women’s progress in the workplace forward in any material way.

Work-in-progress Financial Advisor, Evolving Author, Former Corporate Executive, Lifelong Student. Blogger at Free Agent Economics and Storyacious. Full Profile. All Posts.Share this:

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