Monday, August 5, 2013

#44 (2013/CBR5) "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg

I think when I first heard about Lean In (2013) by Sheryl Sandberg, all I knew was that it had something to do with feminism, and that it might be controversial. I learned that Sandberg was high up in the business world. Now that I've just changed careers and turned my back on the business world, I wondered what Sandberg could say that would relate to me. Discussions of corporations bore me to death, and I have no interest in working in an office environment. But I'm a sucker for well-known, controversial books because I like to make up my own mind about things and the only way to do that is to read it myself.

So, I read it, enjoyed it, and didn't see much of anything to be upset about. Sandberg discusses where women stand in the world in terms of leadership positions and financial compensation. She discusses factors that have kept women from real equality. She also includes a lot of anecdotes from her own experience, which were interesting because she's held so many high-power positions. I thought Sandberg gave practical, inclusive advice that was much more useful to me than I would have imagined. She came across as honest and straight forward. I especially liked the many studies she cites to illustrate some of the challenges women face that we might not even think about.
For instance:
-Studies have shown that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is. (29)
-In situations where a man and a woman receive negative feedback, the woman's self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree. (30)
-Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. "For men, professional success comes with positive reinforcement at every step of the way. For women, even when they're recognized for their achievements, they're often regarded unfavorably." (40)
-Because women being assertive about their accomplishments does not fit with people's (both men and women's) ideas of femininity, a woman who explains why she is qualified or mentions previous successes in a job interview can lower her chances of getting hired. (44)
-Studies have shown that both men and women will rate the same job applications higher if they come from a man rather than a woman. Even today, gender-blind evaluations still result in better outcomes for women. (152)

Sandberg is very careful to say that not all jobs are for everyone. She does not denigrate women who choose to, or have to, stay at home with their kids or make choices different from hers. However, she did state that when many women leave the workforce or pull back from success, it may have more to do with our culture than women making free, independent decisions. As someone who basically gave up trying to succeed in the white-collar workforce, it was disconcerting for someone to argue that there might have been more cultural influences in that decision than I would like to think. I could see how that could make some people defensive, but despite my initial discomfort it makes sense.

I only have two minor complaints about this book. First, it felt a little repetitive by the end. When I was close to done, I felt like I had stopped learning new things and I was ready for it to end. The second quibble was that sometimes I felt that Sandberg was name dropping. Maybe it isn't fair because it's hard to discuss past work experience without mentioning co-workers, but it felt like there were an awful lot of stories about Sandberg's fantastic working relationship with "Mark" [Zuckerberg].

I went back to the negative reviews on Amazon to see what people were saying about this book. I was shocked by some of the responses, and I guess those reviews are where I got the idea that this book was controversial. There were a number of complaints that Sandberg had no right to give any advice because she didn't have to work to get to where she is; she was born with a silver spoon and has "no worries." She couldn't possibly have anything to say to middle class women. She had people to take care of her kids because she doesn't care about them. Although these comments weren't as bad as some random youtube comments I've seen, these negative reviews really came across as unsubstantiated, personal, and defensive attacks on Sandberg. According to Wikipedia, Sandberg is the daughter of an opthamologist and a well-educated stay-at-home mom. She went to public schools and appeared to earn her entrance to Harvard. It appears that she's worked hard all her life. I'm certainly not rich, well-connected, or powerful, but I found her book pretty interesting and helpful. As a woman in my new job, I am now an extreme minority and often surrounded by pretty macho men. Although my workplace is very different from a boardroom, the dynamics are often similar.

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