Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Review: Lean In (Or Run the Other Way?)

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I attended a women’s college in the late 1990s.  Equality was somewhat taken for granted, and where it wasn't, female superiority was assumed and advocated. That brand of feminism never appealed to me.

Which is why when Lean In was first published, my first inclination was to run the other way.  I expected a redux of my undergraduate experience.

It wasn't until a group of fellow female attorneys with whom I breakfast monthly decided to read it together that I caved.  I worked hard to suspend my preconceived notions.  I told myself that I was reading it for Mouse as much as for me.  I really, really tried.  Honest.

Let me be clear: I absolutely, unequivocally believe that women deserve an equal chance to pursue an education and rise to the pinnacle of any career she chooses.

And that is where the crux of my problem with Lean In lies: it's not about choice.  As one of my breakfast colleagues put it:  "It's reverse pigeon-holing; instead of telling us we have to be barefoot in the kitchen like the Mad Men generation, she's telling us we have to want to occupy the C-suite."

As much as Sandberg tries to placate her readers in later chapters of the book, sharing her own experiences as a new mom, and declaring that there's nothing wrong with staying at home to raise the next generation, she gives herself away in the first chapter.  For her, corporate and political leadership is not a choice, it is a moral imperative.

Instead, I think women need:
  • To recognize rather than suppress the fact that we possess some uniquely feminine attributes; AND
  • To figure out how to use those attributes to our advantage rather than trying to fill a man's shoes.
  • To have access to women mentor figures early in life (as a teenager or college student) to help us learn to harness our strengths and discern how we want to apply those in our lives; AND
  • To surround ourselves with a "boardroom" of women with whom to commiserate, bounce ideas, vent, brainstorm, and otherwise mutually encourage.
Which is why, if I ever write a book on the subject, it'll be called "True Choice: A pep rally for all women, whether they lead from the boardroom, the living room, the classroom, the courtroom, the operating room, or some combination thereof".

Have you read Lean In (or watched Sheryl Sandberg's TED Talk?  What are your thoughts?

Disclaimer: this post contains some Amazon affiliate links.


  1. Interesting. I have heard some (female) friends talking about it and recommending it to me, so I appreciate your take on it. I hope girls can have mentoring ladies even earlier in life than you mentioned, to help them grow up confident.

    1. Sarah - I agree completely: the earlier the mentoring the better! I see a lot of intentional, organized mentoring going on with women once they are professionals, but I think it needs to trickle back to high school and college age girls (at a minimum).