21st Mar 2013

How should we read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In?

Should we laud it or savage it? Is it a feminist call to arms, or does it perpetuate the stereotypes women have been trying for years to overcome? The recent release of Sheryl Sandberg’s first book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead has been causing a media furore for weeks, and the response has been wildly varying. With Lean In, Sandberg is essentially trying to answer the question: why are there less women than men in positions of economic and political power? While mentioning sexism and corporate obstacles, Sandberg also controversially attributes the gap to women holding themselves back by lacking the aggression to pursue opportunities. It is this view which has enraged her critics.

She writes of women, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in… We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men.” By way of illustration Sandberg tells the story of being offered the COO position at Facebook. Pleased with the deal, she was intending on accepting without negotiation on the pay packet. However, her husband and brother-in-law told her that a man would never accept a first offer – he would push for more and expect more. Sandberg parked her timidity, pushed a little harder and came out with a much better deal.

FACTS

Women hold about 17% of American Fortune 500 board seats, and about 14% of executive officer positions. The US Congress is 82% male.  93% of executive board members in the FTSE 100 are men: there are only 2 female executives.

There is a dearth of women in positions of power.

Every major and minor media outlet has been airing their opinion on Sandberg and Lean In for weeks. So this book has gotten women and men worked up about the issue of women and work. This can only be a good thing. Whatever your view of Lean In, it has started a dialogue. And a dialogue will fight stagnation.

Hilda Goold

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