Professionelle resources

Lean In

Written by Sheryl Sandberg and reviewed by Nicola Rowe

If you know anything about Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s guide for executive women, you know what it’s not: a career guide for women who want to work part-time, who enjoy life in middle management, or whose ambition – however free-floating it may be right now – is anything other than vaulting.

But I’ll tell you one thing Lean In is: it’s the book I wish I’d had to hand out two years ago when I watched four of the five guys in my Cambridge Masters’ class head to jobs paying north of $NZ120,000, while only one of the 18 women sitting next to them was on track to do the same. It’s the book I wish I’d read aloud from when one of these men mused, “They made me an amazing offer, but I figured I should negotiate, so they’ve agreed to pay for my Harvard MBA as well,” two hours after the woman who usually sat behind him had told me wonderingly, “I found our finance class quite tough, so I was amazed when they offered to pay me $NZ 60K.”

Sandberg doesn’t sugar-coat the reality women face: as she told a Harvard Business School class two years ago, “If current trends continue, 15 years from today, [only] about one-third of the women in this audience will be working full time, and almost all of you will be working for the guy next to you.” But she does give concrete advice.

You can get some of the flavor of Lean In by watching Sandberg’s 2010 TED talk on why we have too few women leaders.

Alternatively, you can watch (and read) Fox News and the author of How to Choose a Husband ripping it to shreds on the basis that it “dismisses maternal desire”.

The book is structured around several broad themes – non-linear careers, finding a mentor, the difference between success and likeability, and so on, but what I appreciated most were the snippets of advice strewn throughout the book that gathered, quite concisely, insights of a kind that had taken me years to develop. For example, when I worked in the Swiss office of a multinational consulting firm, we were just 14% women, and I had a rule for myself: I will never speak disparagingly of a female colleague in front of a male superior. (I amended this, later, to, “… unless she really, really deserves it”.) Sandberg flips this and says: talk each other up!

However, Sandberg doesn’t just talk about work, though she does tick off imposter syndrome, fear of negotiating and a lack of ambition in short order. She sensitises women to the messages we receive – often unwittingly – from those around us. Ever notice that men, announcing a baby’s impending arrival, hear only “congratulations,” while women need to listen a second longer for “… and what are you planning to do about work?” And we take those messages on board: it’s not uncommon to hear a man say he’s got “babysitting duty” that evening, but Sandberg won’t be the only one who’s never heard a woman refer to taking care of her own children that way.

Indeed, Sandberg believes that your choice of life partner is one of the most important career decisions you’ll ever make. And, Sandberg says: think what a rod you’re making for your own back every time you say “Ohmigod, that’s not the way you do it! Just move aside and let me!” She doesn’t shy away from advising you to empower men, quoting with approval Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter who, when asked at a conference what men could do to advance women’s leadership, answered tartly, “the laundry.”

If this isn’t enough for you, you may like to emulate Esatsy CEO Kristina Salen, who Sandberg also cites with approval. While dating, Salen systematically tested each boyfriend’s support for her career by breaking a date, citing a professional conflict, and evaluating his reaction – and then, if he passed that test, subsequently testing whether he was ready to fit his schedule around hers by inviting him to visit her for the weekend in South America where she was based for business at the time. So, what to do? Since it can be hard to raise your consciousness on your own, Sandberg offers an explicit solution: Lean In circles. Described in depth on the book’s well-resourced website, the circles are small groups that meet regularly – monthly, say – to share goals and to learn. Sandberg provides kits for the groups with video seminars on topics ranging from negotiation to owning the room.  This, I think, is a great idea: it’s likely to feel artificial at first, but it’s also very likely to work, and there’s something enormously liberating about saying aloud either, “This is what I want to achieve,” or “I’m not quite sure what I want to achieve, but it’s definitely going to be something,” and hearing only applause and support.

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