Book Review: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

I had not heard of Lean In until I saw it on the shelf of Crossword during a random visit which resulted in a pretty huge book shopping spree. What attracted me to this book, was what came after Lean In in the title: Women, WCaptureork, and the Will to Lead. I found out only much later, after having read the book, that it was on the list of NY Times best sellers.

I am not a feminist. I only believe in women power. I strongly believe women to be stronger than men in every way. They have always been, and will continue to be stronger – physiologically and emotionally. If a person can survive the pain of child birth, she can survive anything. I have wondered on many occasions, what the prime reason could be for men to have always had an edge over women through generations. I have a theory which could possibly explain why: All female homosapiens are consumed by more fear than their male counterparts. It is fear that holds back girls and women across all cultures. Women would be lying if they’d say they rarely self-sabotage, or are unapologetic in taking rightful credit or self-promotion. Men on the other hand, tend to give themselves a lot more credit than the world would give them. Even if they didn’t, they can instinctively put up an act of being more credible at every sphere of life, be it an interview, appearance, money, intelligence, or just anything. No, this is not a strategic move that men make. They are socially conditioned that way. Every man believes will all conviction that they are better than they actually are. I must say, it is an enviable trait. On the contrary, women tend to believe with greater conviction that they are less competent and capable than they truly are! I am usually a lot better prepared than my male peers for meetings with our Directors and Vice Presidents at work. The guys usually walk in with a lot more composure even on days when they are completely clueless. Strangely, at the end of the meeting, both my male peers and I seemingly make a similar impact on the meeting outcome. I have figured that their fearlessness is the key to this outcome. 

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into issues which women face at work, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. While this book by the COO of Facebook is ostensibly about women in the workplace, it’s really about subconscious cognitive biases. A majority of Americans may consider women and men to be equal on the surface, but the statistics that women still lag significantly behind men in both pay and leadership positions points to the fact that there is something else going on. In this book, Sandberg does an excellent job at shining light on exactly what is standing in the way of full equality. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.”  She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home. 

One other thing. I really like the chapter about how women work our tails off up to the point of giving birth. I often find myself worrying about my career after child birth. I am not even married yet! Statistics across the world show that women are paid way lesser than men irrespective of their marital status, hard-work, capabilities, or even the financial benefits they bring to a company. This worries me a lot. Funnily, I am fully aware of being underpaid throughout my career for what I bring to the table in comparison to my male peers. I have always restrained myself from demanding for what I rightfully deserve, and I don’t say this with any air of pride. On the contrary, it is sad, and I wish to change that attribute about myself. I am and have always been a very competent career oriented woman, who tried to “leans in” just as far as her male peers, and “sits at the table” for as long as possible. I do worry about where my career will head after child birth. I would hate to compromise my career for my child, while my partner has both a child and a career. I have never been an under achiever, or one of those people who are content with doing just ‘okay’, and would only be truly happy if my partner and organization would support my goals through and post child-birth. Sandberg discusses the above point in her book. Organizations across the world are unfortunately structured in a manner to pay higher salaries and promote their male employees and across hierarchies. We cannot expect that to change too soon, so women did better stand up and demand for what they rightfully deserve.

Sandberg also shines light upon the importance of our husbands or partners sharing work on the home and child front. Clearly, her equally successful husband, David, has been a brilliant partner in supporting her through child-care and home management, as she describes in her book.

What bothered me about this book is the author’s blindness to her own privilege. Wealth makes a huge difference in constructing a life that balances the desires for a career and a family. She does not appreciate this. Sandberg also leaves out two large groups of women; women of color and women who are not wealthy.

While many women want to sit at the table and lean as far in as the rest of those at the table, many women are not invited and/or do not have the means to take the risk. We are all socialized from birth for women to be sweet and nurturing and men are to be tough and aggressive, and for women to be valued for the care they give while men are valued for their external accomplishments. It’s not fair to either men or women. Organizations, partners, peers, and families and women themselves have a huge role to play in breaking and moving past these barriers. For starters, I would say, at least try to be fearless. Ask yourself, what you would do if you were not afraid?

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3 comments

  1. Aditya Choudhary · September 3, 2014

    very well written ishma..

  2. Sharon George · September 17, 2014

    Hey…this is such a well written article. I love it and I loved the book. As a woman, I am well aware of how much I am paid as compared to a male counterpart and how seriously I am taken in the workplace. That being said, we have taken huge strides for equality in this country but we have so much more groundwork to do. It starts with us.

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