Book Review - "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
Lean In – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead; By Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell Published by WH Allen; Price – INR 499 One would expect the COO of one of the most successful and widely-recognized companies in the world to write a staunch, unwavering account of how to make it in the corporate world, sans anecdotes and personal stories. However this is where Sheryl Sandberg surprises one and all with her witty remarks, hilarious anecdotes and meaningful life lessons which she has learned the hard way, at home and at work. The reader is left chuckling with surprise as she recounts her days as a pregnant working woman, who is described as resembling a “whale” by a colleague. Rather than take offence, Sandberg uses that comparison to bring forward a more serious problem faced by pregnant women at her office, that of lack of preferred parking spaces. After having resolved that issue, she goes on to share in vivid detail, the sheer frustration she feels when confronted with women who are intelligent, powerful and brimming with potential, who seem to give it all up in favor of what they believe is a more suitable role for them. She attributes this giving up, not to societal pressures, but to the self-defined boundaries which these women seem to have created by themselves, for themselves. This represents a different kind of feminism for Sandberg, who refuses to go down the path where men and society are blamed for the lack of women in high professional positions. The blame, she says, lies within the minds of these women and goes on to state, “Women are not just victims of this thought pattern, but are also perpetrators”. The concept of leaning in, as described by Sandberg in her book, is to be more assertive at the workplace while managing household responsibilities. She calls for fair treatment and equality in both spheres, citing examples towards the end of her book where she praises co-author Nell Scovell’s husband for prioritizing her need to write this book; he is said to have taken time off to raise the couple’s children and offered his advice and suggestions for the book as well. She is firm about the need for women to begin prioritizing their goals, instead of internalizing societal opinions on where they should be investing their energy. In her own life, Sandberg has borne the brunt of gender inequality, and brings forward minor but telling details about how women and a woman’s role are not factored into something as basic as office infrastructure. She humorously recalls an instance where she needed to use the ladies room after a high-powered business meeting, and asked for directions to it; the person she addressed said he didn't know, and stated that she was possibly the only woman who had attended a business meeting in his office, and then humorously declared, “maybe you are the first one who needed to use the rest room!” Through these humorous but telling examples which help develop perspectives regarding society’s set roles for women, Sandberg is bringing forth problems which need to be resolved from both ends; society’s issues as well as women’s issues. In conclusion, Lean In serves as an insightful commentary from the top as it looks around and looks downwards at the unequal balance of power between men and women at the workplace, and appeals to women to join, rather, lean in and be a part of the progressive movement towards equality and recognition. To people who want to rid themselves of negative thinking and gender stereotypes, this book helps open minds without being didactic and critical. Coming from a woman who constitutes the tiny 14% minority of women who occupy high professional positions in the corporate sphere, Lean In serves as a manifesto for personal and professional enrichment, and states, quite clearly that it is not just meant for wannabe corporate honchos. Sandberg makes her stand as a mother equally clear, and offers the same advice to mothers who are looking to expand their skills to include a career, but are held back by self-doubt and self-critique. Given that Lean In is now aspiring to become a woman-friendly space for encouragement that is gathering support and receiving critical acclaim for its honest, endearing narrative style, it is recommended that you invest in this book and join the movement.