Review: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Title: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Genres: Biography & Memoir, Business
Publisher: Knopf (March 11, 2013)
Format: Hardcover (240 pages)
My Rating: 4/5
Let me start by telling you what Lean In is NOT: Sandberg’s part-memoir/part-feminist call to action/part-career guide is not a perfect, one-size-fits-all road map for every woman; it is not an all-encompassing solution to the very deep-rooted and complex issue of women’s inequality in corporate America and throughout the world; and it is not a book that claims to know, firsthand, the struggles of the underprivileged or racial minorities.
Sandberg makes clear that Lean In is just an opening dialogue to a much larger conversation. She also acknowledges that her experience as a Harvard-educated, affluent, white woman is one of privilege, and she repeatedly emphasizes that her chosen path is not the only path to success, or more importantly, personal fulfillment.
That said, as a recently married, middle class, millennial working woman, I found Lean In to be highly motivating and largely relatable. Being an executive or even a woman is not a prerequisite to benefit from Sandberg’s insights (contrary to many negative reviews). The topics of leadership, career/personal life balance, and women’s equality are important and relevant to a broad audience.
So, what does it mean to “lean in”, anyway? Over the years, Sandberg has observed countless women, herself included, “leaning back” – sitting on the sidelines instead of taking a seat at the table, not raising their hands, passing on opportunities, and limiting themselves unnecessarily and sometimes unknowingly. She urges women, instead, to lean in to these situations, to embrace the inherent challenges and risks and sit confidently at the table – literally and figuratively.
“Leaning in” alone, however, is not a cure for institutional inequalities, and Sandberg acknowledges that the battle for true women’s equality needs to be fought on multiple fronts. Lean In focuses primarily on individual behaviors and the need to shift internal thinking. That said, my main criticism of the book is that it blatantly overlooks the one rapidly growing segment of the female workforce that, more than any other group, has taken fate into their own hands – women entrepreneurs. Lean In offers great insight into how to navigate existing institutions (as Sandberg has done personally), but it never addresses the power of female innovators and entrepreneurs to bring about rapid, large-scale change. This is particularly disappointing considering Sandberg, as COO of Facebook, works alongside Mark Zuckerberg, one of the greatest visionary entrepreneurs of our generation.
Bottom line: Lean in is neither perfect nor complete, but Sandberg’s underlying message is thought-provoking, relevant, and important, not to mention a quick and enjoyable read. I recommend it to any woman who is working, who has a family, or is thinking about starting one in the future, and to any man who wants to better understand the issues affecting his female colleagues, spouse, or family members.