All the criticism that’s been directed at Sheryl Sandberg and her new book, Lean In, is totally unwarranted. Everyone in my blog audience, men and women, should read it. I don’t know Sandberg personally, of course, and I’m sure there are criticisms to be made on her leadership style or some other aspect of her work life. But it’s crazy that people have piled on, mostly without having read the book, myself included.
Sandberg acknowledges that the world, especially the work world, still isn’t overly friendly toward women. Discrimination and bias still exist, and plenty of work needs to be done on these issues. Her book actually gives some practical advice in this area for both men and women to be aware of unexamined bias and combat that in simple ways. Her main focus is on what women can control, themselves.
Women can’t fix, and can’t be expected to fix (by themselves) all the problems related to gender in the world. What they can do is try to work against them personally. And yes, she admits it’s unfair that women have to think about their behavior, appearance, etc. more than men. But we have to face facts. Women, she says, often shoot themselves in the foot by conforming to expectations based on gender. So, for example, the expectation exists that women shouldn’t express their opinion, so they don’t. Women underestimate their ability and are reluctant to take credit for their work (I am soooo guilty of this). She suggests saying just, “Thank you.” when someone compliments your work or an achievement. No hemming and hawing about how so-and-so helped you or how it was nothing. Just, “Thank you.”
She also talks about work at home. Here she acknowledges that she is luckier than most in that she can hire help, but she makes suggestions for those who can’t. Let things go. Don’t let society tell you it’s your job to keep the house perfect. Pick a partner who will do 50/50. If your partner isn’t doing 50/50 and can, talk to him (or her, but mostly she addresses heterosexual couples) about it. Don’t feel guilty about leaving your kids in childcare, especially if you love your work as much as your family. Find your limit. Don’t work crazy hours and ignore your family. Focus on quality not quantity. Decide you’re going to be home for dinner and not work again until the kids are in bed. She fully recognizes that some women don’t have this choice. They have kids who need special attention, or, quite frankly, they don’t like their job and want to be at home with their kids. And that’s okay. She wishes more highly educated women wouldn’t drop out of the workforce, but understands the work it might take (and the money!) to make it work.
I’m giving the book to a colleague, and asking her to pass it on to another colleague. I think our students should read it. I think it’s time we stopped shooting ourselves in the foot, stopped piling on to women who make it to the top, and started helping each other get there and started doing what we need to do to get where we want. In college, I was in a sorority, and there was a lot I dislike about it, but I especially disliked rush, when we recruited new members. I felt fake, like I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. I think many women feel that’s what someone like Sandberg is asking. I had a Rush Director one year who said to us, “I want you to be yourself, but be your best self.” I think about that often and try to live up to it. I think that’s essentially what Sandberg is suggesting. Don’t sell yourself short just because you’re a woman and there are all these things out there that tell you you’re not good enough. Put your best self forward, and you will be good enough.