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og:imageI have to admit, with all the excitement around Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, when it came out a few months ago, I was eager to read it.  I even bought an extra copy for my friend Dana Hughens.

But now that I have worked my way thought it, I have to say that I was thoroughly disappointed in it – from start to finish I found myself shaking my head, grumbling under my breath and at one point actually saying out loud – “is she crazy?” Since I was on an airplane at the time the guy next to me probably thinks that I’m the crazy one.

By now you probably know the basic premise of the book – women need to support other women in the workplace.  Women need to continue to push for equality and we owe it to each other to do what we can to make that happen.  I’m not arguing with that concept. Her feeling is that we somehow lack commitment and therefore hinder our progress in the workplace. Ah, really?

Sandberg has had a very fortunate career path – chief of staff at the United States Treasury Department, a vice president at Google and currently COO at Facebook.  She was recently named one of the world’s youngest female billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.  So she certainly knows what it means to be successful in the workplace.  And she prefaces the book by saying the content is from personal experience and extensive research.

Might be, but I’m still not buying what she has to say. Here are just a few of the things that got my blood boiling:

Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself – traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting.

Not in my world – from as far back as I can remember, my parents told me I could do anything, be anything that I wanted to be.  I was vocal in school (sometimes too vocal), protested what I thought was wrong, stood up for what I believed in.  I am doing much the same thing now…in the workplace and in my personal life. Like it or not, that’s who I am.

Fear is the root of so many barriers that women face.

Perhaps, but sometimes that fear is exactly what pushes us to try harder, be better.

Acting in stereotypically feminine ways makes it difficult to reach for the same opportunities as men, but defying expectations and reaching for those opportunities leads to being judged as undeserving and selfish…intelligence and success are not clear paths to popularity at any age.

Yikes, so you can’t be smart, successful and popular?

When talking about negotiating (page 47):  Women must come across as being nice, concerned about others and “appropriately” female…provide a legitimate explanation for the negotiation…one way of doing this is to suggest someone more senior encouraged the negotiation (based on a study done at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.)

So “appropriately” female is ok but “stereotypically” female is not.  And in order to successfully negotiate we should lie about it.

When discussing the line between personal and professional (page 90) she refers to a female acquaintance: (she) explained that her mostly male partners got used to seeing her cry at the office and their response was heartwarming. “It was as if they envisioned me as one of their own daughters and wanted to comfort me.”  (She) insists that her public emotion improved her work situation by turning her colleagues into a source of support and by leading to more flexible work hours.

I’m not opposed to crying in the workplace, sometimes the frustration of a situation forces the tears.  But to talk about stereotypical female behavior in one section and 50 pages later give an example where a female used personal challenges to get what she wanted, seems a bit contradictory to me.

There were a few other sections when she talks about asking women about their plans to have a baby and whether that impacted career decisions. Besides being a legal issue, I doubt she asks her male colleagues what their baby-making plans are.

Even in my disappointment, I did find a few nuggets that I liked:

Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.  Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration.

Quoting author Alice Walker, “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” 

…if you want to scale the corporate ladder…find mentors (people who will advise) as well as sponsors (people who will advocate).

Authentic communication is not always easy, but it is the basis for successful relationships.

And if you don’t have time to read it, it looks like it’s going to be a movie soon.

I’d love to hear from others that have read it, what do you think?  Am I making more out of it or taking things out of context?  Do you agree or disagree with me (or her)?

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio

2 Comments

  1. I didn’t read the book after I read a synopsis of it. I concur with every single point you made Abbie. I would add only this…everything she claims in the book can be claimed for men as well as women. Fear is the barrier everyone faces and I have had many male colleagues who lacked the confidence to be their own advocates in spite of having great skill sets.

    Yikes…I feel my blood heating thinking about some of these things that have frustrated me about generalizations and stereotypes my whole life.

    Here’s the bottom line in my estimation…if you find an author is insinuating that you be less than anything but truthful and transparent from your conduct to your core, you should run the other direction. If you follow that type of advice, you may make it to the top of something but you will never own your bliss if you fake your way there. I hope all parents will parent like the Finks and raise children who believe in themselves and who build integrity in the workplace. Then someday, there will be no audience for Sandberg’s strategies. That’s all from Mimiland.

    • Mimi, thanks for chiming in here. We’ve talked before about the power of self-awareness and recognizing behaviors in ourselves that might lead to self-doubt. Sure, we’ve all had moments (men and women) where we think we might be less than, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable.

      Wherever the career (or non-career) path may take you, we should all feel confident in our convictions.

      Hope all is well in MimiLand!

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