Book Review: Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg has been cheered and jeered for her perspectives on women reaching for the C-suite. As the COO of Facebook, Sandberg recently joined the ranks of the 138 female billionaires in the U.S. and was ranked as the 6th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes, right below Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was a must-read for me because the last few times I’ve described the concept for my own book, folks have remarked that I am presenting the antithesis to Lean In.

I prepared myself for a book that would challenge my own perspectives, but actually found Sandberg’s thoughts refreshing, well-researched, and transparent. If you are a type-A female, Lean In truly reads like your own personal manifesto.

Lean In is much more about modern feminism and gender diversity at the top, which in turn leads to greater diversity downstream. I certainly don’t disagree and was myself mostly unaware of both the continued unconscious bias favoring men as well as how we undermine ourselves as women.

Sandberg’s honesty and straightforward style in taking up the banner of gender equality in the workplace is refreshing and undeniable. I appreciated the book immensely.

That being said, I believe there is a bigger picture to consider. Sandberg encourages men to step up in the home so that women can lean in to their careers. She shares quite a few examples of admirable fathers, most of which completely alienate her audience.

For example, several spouses that are detailed in Lean In commuted from different states, leaving their families from Monday through Friday. Who can afford 52 round trip airline tickets a year? Better yet, who in their right mind sees that as a reasonable sacrifice? Are you and your spouse really so important that you can’t find a way to live in the same city together once you have children?

Sandberg also shares the heartache that comes from your child calling for their nanny instead of you. Seriously? This particular story illustrates just how disconnected Sandberg is from the rest of the world. We aren’t just talking the 1%; this is the 0.1%.

When Sandberg tries to relate to the majority of women, she notes, “For most people, sacrifices and hardships are not a choice, but a necessity. About 65 percent of married-couple families with children in the United States have two parents in the workforce, with almost all relying on both incomes to support their household.”

Here’s my question: How many of those households are mortgaged to the hilt despite making well over $75K year combined (incredible wealth by global standards)? How many of those parents are driving leased Audis and BMWs?

While I openly acknowledge that the vast majority of households globally are genuinely struggling, there are a great number of middle class families who fall prey to the underlying issue of social expectations and consumerism. Folks who are trying to live like Sandberg, but on a credit card.

I counter Sandberg’s concepts on two fronts. First, the motivation behind type-A female ladder climbers is wealth and power. Why is the C-suite so alluring? Society tells us it’s where we want and need to be to matter. Forbes ranks both. But wealth and power aren’t what their cracked up to be, so those shooting for the corner office should truly ask why before striving to get there.

Second, I’m obviously a fan of leaping rather than leaning in, which is nothing against Sandberg or Lean In. The ever increasing income opportunities for women (and men), especially for the talent typical of C-suite executives are just too ideal to ignore.

E-commerce and entrepreneurship allow for families to not only live in the same zip code, but for mothers and fathers to combine a stay-at-home presence with abundant and fulfilling careers with autonomy and independence.

What do you think?

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  1. This post reminds me of this quote, “All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.” ― Henry Miller

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