Book Review — Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

Book Review — Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

December 18, 2013
Career Development

Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FAND

RDBA Executive Director

I have to admit that reading the first chapter of this book left me depressed.  Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women.  Globally, just 20% of parliament seats are held by women.  A mere 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.  As a person who considers herself a career woman and a feminist (as the book points out, we need to be willing to say this out loud), I knew most of these statistics.  But seeing them laid out, mentioned one after another on the pages in front of me was depressing. 

The remainder of the book, however, was inspiring while being pragmatic at the same time.  Sheryl Sandberg, who became the chief operating officer of Facebook in 2008 at the age of 37, stresses two key points throughout the book.  Women need to change their internal and personal approaches and corporations need to update their culture and policies in order to create a business climate where women’s leadership skills are valued, respected and compensated.

Sandberg mentions in her book that women tend to leave before they leave.  Even before they are married or have kids, women doubt their ability to combine work and family effectively.  They opt out of opportunities in front of them as they look into their future lives.  Sandberg’s point is to show up, to take every step that’s in front of you now as you don’t always know what the future holds.  Moving forward in leadership positions and proving your value to the company may position you more effectively for flexibility in the future.  Additionally, at higher levels of the corporation, you’re better positioned to drive changes that make family-work balance a priority for all employees, male and female. 

Another key point Sandberg relays is that women tend to be focused on a career, wanting permission and help.  Men are focused on how to manage a business, seeking answers.  The message is to focus on business, finding solutions for problems in the company, striving to make a difference in the company’s goals and business.

The title of the book, lean in is weaved throughout the text.  Sandberg’s point is not that all women must strive for leadership or the corner office, but that we should all lean in to our talents, skills and passions. Her concern is that not enough women who have leadership skill and drive are leaning in.  A Hewlett Packard report makes the case, showing that women only apply for open jobs if they believe they meet 100% of the criteria.  Men, on the other hand, apply if they think they meet 60%.  Clearly this is an opportunity for women to lean in.

On the corporate front, the current climate dictates that women take a man’s approach in order to be successful in high levels of leadership.  Historically, Sandberg points out, leadership has been defined in careful qualities – strategic, analytical, performance-oriented.  This tide is changing, and now leadership stems from individuality that is honest and sometimes imperfectly expressed. 

Perhaps the most compelling quote in the book is:

“For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home.  We have celebrated the fact that women have the right to make this decision, and rightly so.  But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choice that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.  It is time to cheer on girls and women who want to sit at the table, seek challenges, and lean in to their careers.”

At the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance, we often mention that we look forward to the day when a dietitian is CEO of a retail company.  If you believe this is you, I highly recommend “Lean In” as a read.