A couple weeks ago I finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Although some have found reasons to critique her “advice” I was thoroughly inspired by her words.
The first time I heard of Sandberg was on a post by Mr. Kate a couple years ago when she gave a few talks and some videos went viral. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Kate aka Kate Albrecht is my female-fashion-diy-blogger-entreprenuer role model. So when I read about Sandberg and her book on Mr. Kate I trusted my sources and was intrigued by what I found out about her. Lean In was soon on my “to read” list as college slowly revealed the burgeoning feminist inside of me. I picked up the book this semester along with a couple textbooks to take advantage of Amazon’s Super Saver Shipping (which by the way $10 increase in minimum purchase?!?) and finished it just when my Women in Society class starting our discussion on women in the workplace and women leadership. Can I get a what-what for perfect timing?
Lean In spoke to me on a personal level because for a long time I have felt like I was the only girl/female/young woman/college student who has ever thought about and considered these things that Sandberg addresses. Now I can see that a lot of women out there agree with me that what Sandberg has experienced we have all experienced or will experience later on in life. But at the same time, there are women out there who cannot relate to her at all, be it for personal life goal differences, socio-economic differences, or education level differences. And they completely shut down her opinions because of it!
What I found striking was the number of people who in my class, professor included, felt somewhat negatively by Sandberg’s advice. They felt pressured, stressed out, and turned off by the idea of “leaning in.” What is the reason for this?
I hypothesize that the real root of the problem is one that Sandberg head on addresses in her book right in the first chapter: the leadership ambition gap. I think those that don’t “get it” are those who fall in that gap. Why is it that women tend to want to stay at home and take care of their children instead of following their ambitions? Sandberg writes about many of those potential reasons but I think it’s a deeper cultural and psychological conditioning.
From day one of birth, girls are exposed to a culture that expects them to become caregivers and to hold back on their aspirations. Our culture even make’s children’s fantasies extremely polarized by gender. Girls want to grow up to be princesses. Boys want to be superheroes. Girls want to grow up to wear fancy dresses and be taken care of. Boys want to grow up to fight the bad guys and save the world, and they don’t mind getting their hands dirty along the way. Take a moment to think about how wrong that is. Why don’t more girls want to save the world?
Sandberg likes to use statistics. The statistics do what they do. They’re numbers. But what they aren’t telling us is that women may have less ambition to achieve more because they were never told that it was possible. They do not realize their full potential. And without that confidence they are not willing to take those risks and would prefer the security of knowing that their family will be taken care of by settling for less. All of these factors start snowballing into the gender distribution in the workplace and at home that we have now. Not to mention structural barriers and sexism and all that jazz.
It takes a certain person to really get into Lean In. If you are the ambitious type who is kind of already a natural-born leader go for it! However, if you aren’t so much, read it with an open mind. It may not completely appeal to you but there are some key takeaways.
A couple of weeks ago, when I was preparing for internship interviews I was going through a list of potential questions I might be asked in a behavioral interview. One question was, “If you could do one thing with your life what would it be?” The answer came somewhat instantly. If I could do one thing with my life, it would be to inspire young women to go above and beyond. I think the best part of that goal is that it can be done no matter where I end up working or what I end up doing because I know that I will go at it 150% to prove that my gender does not make a difference in how I can contribute to a company and become a role model not only for women but for men as well. I don’t know about you, but I kind of want to “lean in” and save the world.