One of the bestselling business books of 2013 and 2014 has been Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. One might naturally assume that a book on women in the workforce would focus on balancing a career and family life, but in fact the book is more about how the gender bias affects women’s ability to get ahead. Early in the book, she very accurately writes, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”
In the first chapter, Sandberg talks about what she calls “the leadership ambition gap.” The chapter contains numerous anecdotes about why women so often choose to leave their careers to become mothers and homemakers and about the unfortunate double standard that ambition is seen as a bad thing in women.
In a later chapter, Sandberg makes draws some conclusions about success and likeability. She cites an experiment in which people compared two identical resumes, one of which was submitted by a female and one of which was submitted by a male. Although the test subjects were quite impressed by the male’s resume, they said that they found the female’s level of success worrisome. To an extent, success makes women seem less likeable.
The book also deals with the corporate ladder (or jungle gym, as Sandberg explains it), the concept of a “designated parent,” the myth of doing it all, and the importance of mentorship.
In the last, particularly powerful, chapter, Sandberg talks about the importance of women working together for equality. She discusses how often it is that women with advanced careers look down on stay-at-home mothers and vice versa. She concludes that in order to defeat the sort of inequality her book describes, it is necessary for these two groups to work together.
Although Lean In has an extremely successful sales record, it has drawn many critical responses, including the assertion that the book pits women against each other. Even if readers see it that way, there are a myriad of useful and valid pieces of advice in a book that shares a clear message of empowerment for women in the workplace.