Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead


Like many others, I've been curious to read Sheryl Sandberg's 'feminist manifesto' encouraging women and girls to lean in and make a difference.

As the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sandberg is breaking barriers in both the digital world and the workplace. I first came to learn of Sandberg through her now famous TED Talk on why few women are 'at the table.' I wanted to find out more about Sandberg, and her book arrived at the perfect time.

Lean In isn't strictly a business manual nor a personal memoir. It's best to describe it as a unique fusion of both, and testimonials from individuals such as Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and Condoleezza Rice made me want to begin reading immediately.

In the US, women receive 57% of undergraduate degrees, and 60% of masters degrees. In the UK, women are similarly at 57% in receiving undergraduate degrees, yet these percentages aren't mirrored throughout the workforce. Sandberg offers several explanations for this.

Female accomplishments come at a cost, with descriptions such as aggressive and ambitious when attributed to a woman not seen as compliments. Similarly, taking risks and advocating for oneself are traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting. This may offer some explanation for why academic gains are not being translated into top jobs for women across all sectors.

It was interesting to read theories such as the impostor syndrome, which I can certainly testify to experiencing. The impostor syndrome is described as an individual feeling like a fraud and plagued by feelings of self doubt. Sandberg argues that this is a symptom of a greater issue of underestimating ourselves, and I can agree that is something that we should all work on. We need to have more confidence in our accomplishments and our goals, and to feel and demonstrate that anything is possible.

Sandberg is right to say that women often attribute their success to external factors, such as working hard, luck and help from others. Who can't say that this mix hasn't 'helped' them? I certainly can't. Failure demonstrates a lack of ability, and Sandberg argues that this pattern has long term negative consequences.  Let's banish this feeling of failure as a lack of ability. Sure things go wrong for all of us, but by no means does it mean that we are unable to achieve.

I loved the term 'jungle gym,' and was surprised that I had not come across it before. To be in the jungle gym is to participate in creative exploration of the job market- and not just have one foot on the ladder. Sandberg provides encouragement that a career doesn't need to be mapped out from the beginning, and discusses a dual approach to your professional career. The long term dream and the 18 month plan really are simple to understand, work with and provide that reassurance that you can evolve and travel along the career road. It is certainly one that I will be implementing as I look at my own career and what I hope to achieve.

It was great to read more about mentoring, something which I am a big supporter of. Studies have shown that mentors select proteges based on performance and potential. Instead of seeking out a mentor before deciding what you'd like to achieve or even what problem you'd like to solve, Sandberg suggests that you need to 'excel' to get a mentor. From personal experience, I can say that this approach has been successful, and is continuing to this very day. My mentors assist and inspire me in different ways, and the two way process of helping, inspiring and working with each other brings surprising and welcome results and experiences.

Sandberg's book is not just for women, and I am so glad that she advocates for senior men mentoring women and helping to champion and sponsor them. Any male leader serious about moving toward a more equivalent society and workplace should make this a priority and help to play their part in the solution towards achieving this goal.

Lean In has many inspiring quotes and one of my favourites is "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" 

I'd encourage you to purchase a copy of Lean In and visit the website which is supporting women to take their confidence to the next level, and participate in the online discussion or Lean In Circles.

Let's speak up and encourage others to do the same. 

Lean In 

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