Since TwoEsforMee started us off with Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In campaign, and I just finished the Lean In audiobook, I thought I’d use my first post as a mini book review/commentary.

Final verdict: Important message but flawed vehicle.

Lean In: Women, Work,and the Will to Lead

by Sheryl Sandberg

Published: 2013

Audiobook read by Eliza Donovan

As the author describes early in her book, there are two broad approaches to the women in the workplace issue.  I will call them the institutional perspective and the leadership perspective.  The institutional perspective tends to highlight the systemic barriers facing women: sexism, inadequate childcare and/or maternity leave, inflexible scheduling, etc.  For a recent paper from this perspective, see Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic magazine.

Sandberg acknowledges this approach but focuses on the leadership perspective.  Based on her personal experience she writes from the perspective that little will change unless women are in positions to make those changes.  While our society and institutions don’t support us yet, we shouldn’t just give up.  With this in mind, she offers strategies to work through difficulties and reach leadership positions in our careers.

Here are some of the main points:

  • There are many behaviors women employ that can sabotage their journeys: keeping a low profile (sit at the table), avoiding risk (what would you do if you weren’t afraid), passing on opportunities based on very long-term plans (don’t leave before you leave).
  • There are communication strategies that can help navigate the sometimes-hostile professional world.
  • Life partners can and should be life partners, especially with housework, childcare, etc.
  • We have unrealistic expectations for motherhood, housekeeping, and career perfection.
  • We should be able to talk about women’s issues.

While these points are valuable, I will admit to being disappointed with the work.  Part of this comes from the my own bias and the audio version probably offered a different experience than reading the book myself.  For example, the reader they chose for the audiobook sounded very cutesy, so I had a hard time taking the content seriously (sexism 1, feminism 0).  I also reacted badly to a women sounding pushy and touting herself, which was one of her points about society’s reaction to women in leadership . . . embarrassing but lesson learned.

Despite these problems on my part, I still think the book has flaws.  It offers an introduction to many of the issues facing women in the workplace, but the book’s organization is haphazard and its content thin in many respects.  Too many anecdotes and not enough research for my taste.   The author would have done better to condense her material into a strong article or to collect more research to strengthen the book’s content.  Sandberg’s message– you can do it, don’t give up — is very important (I was quite depressed after reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article) but her book is a bit of a mess.

Looking forward to your hate mail, I mean your thoughtful discussion . . .