Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: 'Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead' by Sheryl Sandberg

Review by Susan Grigsby
I had heard the buzz about Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead that many of you may have heard as well. Written by an elitist with a double Harvard degree who was mentored by Larry Summers (gasp!) and is worth hundreds of millions in stock from Google and Facebook (oh no!), she couldn't possibly have anything to say to women in less fortunate positions. It was a vanity book designed to elevate Facebook (really?). I have to admit that it has been a long time since I remember a book being so roundly condemned by so many who hadn't even read it. The fact that a book authored by a woman about women was raising such a stink intrigued me. If I hadn't planned to read it before, I certainly looked forward to reading it now.
I should be used to pundits being wrong.
Honestly, there were some points in this book that almost had me wishing I were thirty years younger and still working. It takes a lot to do that. I am happy with my life (except for the grief part) and I don't generally envy the lot of today's working women.

Lean In is not so much a feminist manifesto, as it is a hands-on guide to how a woman can think about and alter her chances for success. From the cultural inhibitions that women internalize to the social judgments levied on our performance, Sandberg presents possibilities for change. She addresses many of the same issues I tried to deal with in my career. And although I did okay, I know that some of the advice she offers would have made it possible for me to do a lot more. (Of course in those days she could not have attended Harvard. Or Yale. And COO of Facebook? Not likely.)
Times have changed since Betty Friedan. Women can now attend Harvard. Women can become the COO of Facebook. But not enough of them do. And that is what Sandberg is trying to change with Lean In.
In her NYTimes book review, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the Sate Department under Hillary Clinton, and author of "The Atlantic" article Why Women Can't Have it All, says:
Her point, in a nutshell, is that notwithstanding the many gender biases that still operate all over the workplace, excuses and justifications won’t get women anywhere. Instead, believe in yourself, give it your all, “lean in” and “don’t leave before you leave” — which is to say, don’t doubt your ability to combine work and family and thus edge yourself out of plum assignments before you even have a baby. Leaning in can promote a virtuous circle: you assume you can juggle work and family, you step forward, you succeed professionally, and then you’re in a better position to ask for what you need and to make changes that could benefit others.
Well researched and documented, Sandberg uses statistics, personal anecdotes, and stories from other successful women to present her case. She then uses some common sense, more research, and creative thinking to propose solutions.

I am fully aware that most women are not focused on changing social norms for the next generation but simply trying to get through each day. Forty percent of employed mothers lack sick days and vacation leave, and about 50 percent of employed mothers are unable to take time off to care for a sick child. 21 Only about half of women receive any pay during maternity leave. 22 These policies can have severe consequences; families with no access to paid family leave often go into debt and can fall into poverty. 23 Part-time jobs with fluctuating schedules offer little chance to plan and often stop short of the forty-hour week that provides basic benefits. 24
Too many work standards remain inflexible and unfair, often penalizing women with children. Too many talented women try their hardest to reach the top and bump up against systemic barriers. So many others pull back because they do not think they have a choice. All of this brings me back to Leymah Gbowee’s insistence that we need more women in power. When leadership insists that these policies change, they will. Google put in pregnancy parking when I asked for it and it remains there long after I left. We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.
(Emphasis mine)

Yes, Sheryl Sandberg has had a storied career, leaving her worth close to a billion dollars, named as one of Forbes top five most powerful women in the world, but then, who would want to read a book by a failure? Who wants advice from someone who hasn't succeeded in making a difference?
Maybe this is all just an evil plot to grow Facebook's audience and the value of her stock.  Or maybe it just is what she says it is. A way forward for women and their life partners. (She devotes an entire chapter to how important a life partner is to anyone's success in life.)
Lean In doesn't have to have all of the answers in order to be pointing in the right direction. It is clear that the women's movement has stalled: on Friday North Dakota passed the most repressive anti-women laws the nation has ever seen, virtually denying women the rights guaranteed by Roe vs Wade, and we learned that NYPD officers have been ordered to run criminal record checks on the victims of domestic abuse. Clearly we need to do something. Until we have a greater share of power, our rights will continue to be dictated to us by others. It is time women started reaching for the levers of power in corporations, institutions and governments.
Lean In doesn't stop with the last page. In addition to her TED talk, she has set up, of course, a Facebook page, and a website looking to continue the conversation. She envisions women meeting in small (8 to 10) Lean In Circles to learn from each other and support each other's growth. Small circles that have been disparagingly referred to as a throwback to the consciousness raising of times gone by. What her critics forget is that those consciousness raising parties did a lot of good back in the day.
Jodi Kantor, of the New York Times, in an attempt to show how evil this plot is, published a copy of the document that is being circulated to potential corporate partners in the Lean In movement. (BTW, said corporate partners are only asked the use of their logos and endorsement, not funding, and their support for their employees who chose to join the circles.) I read the document. And wish that when my girlfriends and I got together during the 70s in an informal support group at a nearby watering hole that we could have had access to the material and format of the new Lean In Circles. We got the job done, and helped other women move along their career paths, but not nearly enough and not quickly enough.
All profits from her book go to Lean which is a non-profit public benefit corporation that runs the website of the same name.
Lean In is not for all women. Nor is it meant to be. Not all women want a high powered career and a family. But for those who do, and their partners, it is a book well worth reading.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here

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