While there was praise for Lean In when it came out last month, there was also a lot of negativity swirling around the hype. I noticed some of the criticism of Sandberg's book was coming from people who either had a knee-jerk reaction to its title or to reviews they read, but in any case, they had not read it.
To write as passionately about a book as Mary Pols did without a first-hand account of its content is an indication of the nerve Lean In hit. Generally, the insinuation in Pol's blog and other negative press was that Sandberg suggests that women are not trying hard enough. I have no doubt of Pol's hard work (and that she has "already leaned in"), but there's no reason to be insulted by this insinuation, because it's not in Lean In.
Another reviewer, Carey Goldberg, may have read the book, but seemed to miss the point. She writes that Sandberg's push is "for women to work full-time in high-powered jobs, even through motherhood." I just finished Lean In and know: That is not Sandberg's push. Sandberg goes out of her way to express her support for any individual's choice between work and parenting, too frequently in my opinion. About her decision to leave The New York Times, Goldberg writes, "I'll go to my grave believing that the flaw was not in me as much as it was in a system built for men with housewives to raise the children and care for the elders. And that culture still clearly dominates today."
Yes, it does. If Goldberg read Lean In, she should know this is one of its main points; that this "system built for men" will only change when more women are running it.
The real issue Sandberg explores is this: While women have made exciting advancements in previous decades, we are not done. In the United States, where women are equally, if not more, educated than their male counterparts, gender equality is not reflected in our leadership. The percentages of women in top positions in business and government are low and have barely budged in the last twenty years. What's going on?
Sandberg argues that there is gender-biased behavior on the part of both women and men that holds women back from top positions. This behavior is unconscious and culturally ingrained; there's no one to blame for it. Once recognized, these tendencies can be corrected. This third wave of feminism is very nuanced and internal, but important. Sandberg asserts, and I agree, that we will not have true equality until we have an equal amount of leaders in both government and business. Women have accomplished so much, but we have yet to seal the deal. Equal power is the deal.
Recently, at the Women In The World Summit 2013, Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast (and fan of Lean In) said that to lean in is not enough, that we have to "lean on" governments and corporations to spark change. Brown states that, "pushing up against a glass ceiling is practically a luxury when you consider the millions of women who can feel the floor dropping beneath their feet." Yes, it is a luxury and Brown is right, but Sandberg's logic is that the millions of women Brown speaks of would likely benefit from other women smashing glass ceilings and having more say in economic and governmental policies around the world.
A lot has been said about Sandberg's personal luxury, position and privilege, but she writes about coming from a middle class family, and her message is needed no matter where it comes from. In fact, the higher up the ladder our messenger is, the better the view looking down.
While I recommend reading Lean In, I agree with NPR's Maureen Corrigan that the writing's a little "blah." I found it light, a quick read more like The Rules than The Feminine Mystique, but the points made hold more weight than the style. Perhaps the lightness makes Lean In more accessible to a wider audience. As a woman with power, Sandberg's in the relatively unique position of observing her many subordinates' quest for advancement. I think she's simply sharing her impressions of the cultural tendencies she's seen in women (and men) that ultimately undermine women's quest for equal power. She presents serious research to back up these personal observations.
Lean In tells us to look within ourselves, to recognize mental habits that might be holding us back, and to keep moving forward. This is an exploration of how women can more effectively pursue leadership in any industry, if they choose to.