Review of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

 

“Sit At The Table”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, once hosted a meeting for treasury secretary Tim Geithner at Facebook.  Fifteen executives from across Silicon Valley were invited to discuss the economy over breakfast at Facebook’s offices.  Sheryl invited everyone to grab a plate and take their seat.  The men made their plates and sat at the cozy conference room table.  The women, however, waited until all the men had helped themselves.  They then made their own plates and took seats chairs at the edges of the room.

At this moment, Sheryl Sandberg saw something revolutionary.  The struggle for women to get treated the same as men is so many times a struggle women create themselves.  The problem wasn’t that these women weren’t invited to sit at the table; it’s that they held themselves back.

It is because of this gut-wrenching story that had I been Sheryl Sandberg’s editor, I’d have called the book “A Seat At The Table”, or the more imperative, “Sit At The Table.”

Well, if I were writing it I’d say “sit at the table, spread out your arms, and command presence like the boss woman that you are.”

But Lean In is written politely.  Sandberg is not writing from a harsh, whiny, adversarial, nor accusatory place, as much feminist literature rightfully does.  However, the title “Lean In” doesn’t quite illustrate the bravado of this book.  I don’t want to lean in; I want to clear my throat, command the room, and launch forward with every ounce of my being.

Lean In is Sandberg’s conscientious way of saying, “Stop being doormats, girls!” Listening to the stories and statistics Sandberg shares kind of makes my lunch burn a hole in my esophagus.

For instance, at the time of her writing in 2013, women held 20% of seats of Parliament globally.  Although women have comprised at least 50% of college graduates since the 1980’s, only 21 Fortune 500 CEO’s were women.  Women hold only 14% of executive officer positions, 17% of board seats, and 18% of elected congressional officials positions.  Women of color held only 4% of top corporate jobs, 3% of board seats, and 5% of congressional seats.

I don’t work in a corporate environment, political office, nor in any office that won’t take me in my yoga pants.  But this book isn’t just for women in Corporate America.  It illustrates that although there are more women dominating our decision-making roles, there’s a long way to go.  It’s a primer guide to where women can continue the fight that feminists and suffragists began before our grandmothers were born.  It’s Feminism Lite.

In this book, Sandberg memorably recalls a story of her mentor’s mother Anita Summers who was flattered to hear her boss admit that he was elated to hire a talent like her for pennies of a man’s salary.  She didn’t hear: I deserve as much as a man.  She was happy to have been told she had the same brains as a man.

Have you done this, too?  I sure have.  I remember once when working with a retirement planning firm I was all too happy to be the person who managed the firm’s marketing, prepared portfolio reviews for the CEO’s clients, crunched numbers during tax time, and hobnobbed with prospective new clients in my free time.  During this time, I was paid pennies more than the receptionist.

Female CEO’s are often working just as many hours as secretaries.  And more importantly, secretaries are working as many hours as CEO’s.  Why, then, are women not demanding the pay and job recognition they deserve?

Sandberg recalls a story of her effervescent grandmother.  Grandma, who Sheryl’s great grandfather simply called “Girlie”, graduated from UC Berkeley despite said father wanting to take her out of school to mend clothes.  Legend has it that a store where she worked had to hire four people to replace her when she left.

Nevertheless the only place for women with degrees even for Girlie’s daughter was teaching or nursing.  Today, how many women have what it takes to be a doctor, but settles as a nurse?

This blog is my way of Leaning In.  I’m not resigning myself to lunches and afternoons at Lululemon.  There’s too much to get done.  There are sisters who need encouragement, female business owners who need marketing to make their businesses profitable, women who are dying inside and out with eating disorders to meet male standards of beauty.  Most importantly, there are moms who need to take their seats at the table and not let the world pass them by just because they’re moms.  Be a mom, but also be a mover.  Be a decision maker.

 

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