Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Lean In

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't the type of book I ordinarily read for pleasure. In fact, I almost never read books like this voluntarily, with the exception of a few by Malcom Gladwell (with which I was, admittedly, not impressed). However, there has been so much hubbub about this book that I decided--as I did with books like The Da Vinci Code and Fifty Shades of Grey--that I needed to read it and form my own opinion.

In a nutshell, my opinion is this: the take-home message is valuable. However, I already knew the take-home message before reading the book and, without having read any of her arguments, agreed with it. I think that it is important that a woman holding corporate power wrote this book, in order for her message to be taken seriously and broadcast widely. However, I also think that as a white woman with degrees from Harvard and a resume touting some of the top companies in this country, she has written a book that unintentionally alienates a lot of the audience she was trying to reach. Plus, as she very astutely points out,

"If a man had delivered the same message [that women sometimes hold themselves back] or even gently pointed out that women might be taking actions that limited their options, he would have been pilloried."

Now, for a more granular breakdown (and why I didn't give this book more stars).

As a woman in her late twenties with no husband and no children, I really related to about the first third of the book--the part with no mention of children. This is where Sandberg really gets into some of the gender differences both inside and outside the workplace, several of which I identified. For instance, this issue is something I have always struggled with:

"Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can't seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are--impostors with limited skills or abilities.... Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn't embarrass myself--or even excelled--I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up."

Once she delved into the working relationship between husbands and wives, I wasn't nearly as engaged, but I was still willing to come along for the ride. She made a number of good points about perceived equality between partners, and also about sharing both professional and domestic responsibilities. Of course, most of these points have all been made before, but I think this (Sandberg's book) was probably one of the most efficient ways of getting those messages out to the general public in one neat package. My favorite suggestion--based on research, all of which Sandberg cited extremely thoroughly throughout her book--was this:

"...couples who share domestic responsibilities have more sex. It may be counter-intuitive, but the best way for a man to make a pass at his wife might be to do the dishes."

Finally, about two-thirds of the way through the book, Sandberg jumps into the issues surrounding child-work balance...and never lets up. Virtually the rest of the book focuses on what women, men, and society can and should do in order to make having a family and excelling professionally possible for women. It was at this point that, as a reader, I tuned out. All of the points she made seemed valid; however, I simply couldn't relate personally to these dilemmas, because I am not yet at that point in my life. Moreover, every point she made seemed overly drawn out, particularly for ideas that are decided not new. We all know that there need to be better child care options for working mothers. Fathers do need to contribute more to domestic responsibilities, and they need to be encouraged to do so without retribution and also without shiny gold stars for tasks they should already be doing. It's challenging yet possible to have both a family and a successful career, but it's inaccurate and damaging to say a woman "can have it all."

And so on, and so forth.

The most bitter complaints against this book have cited Sandberg as being privileged and elitist. These reviewers are correct. Both she and her husband have had equally lucrative and powerful career trajectories that entitled them to privileges that your average middle-class reader simply doesn't have (e.g. a nanny, family flights on private jets, the ability to relocate entire companies...etc.). In this way, Sandberg effectively alienates that large swath of her audience that doesn't have these privileges. As one reviewer points out, "Wealth makes a huge difference in constructing a life that balances the desires for a career and a family. She does not appreciate this."

Most of these increasingly irritating examples come in the latter part of the book--the part I already didn't much care for--and so my recommendation would be this: borrow Lean In from your local library. Read the first few chapters. When you start feeling irritated or bored, return the book, because it won't get any better.

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KC said...

oh wow, I know you wrote this a long time ago, but thanks for the final advice--to read just a few chapters! I want to read this for the same reason--to inform myself about this book and be able to have a discussion and opinion, since this is so talked about. I am also wondering if she considers the role that men have in promoting and recognizing women, and how there are a lot of cultural and very valid reasons women tend to xyz in the workplace?

Okay, I'll just read a few chapters. It's on my shelf, but I haven't quite been motivated to tackle it yet!

Allison Goldstein said...

Glad to be able to save you some valuable reading time, KC!

As you said, it's been a while, but I don't recall Sandberg commenting much on the role of men in promoting/recognizing women; this was more a commentary on women's own responsibilities in deciding to go for the promotion and making sure that they are recognized. She certainly mentions reasons why "women XYZ in the workplace," but more to argue against them than to claim that they are valid and unworthy of apology.

Hope that helps! I'd love to hear what you think once you read it, if you have the time to come back here and comment again :)