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  • Writer's pictureYumi Choi

Yumi reads: "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

A book I've been meaning to read for a long time. "Lean In" is the book by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, member of Facebook's Board of Directors, former Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, and founder of the LeanIn organization. She is the mother of 2 children and was married to the CEO of Survey Monkey, who passed away unexpectedly in 2015. She describes herself as a "nerd" and makes her mother responsible, for always assuming that women can have the same responsibilities and careers as men. Sandberg talks in a frank and disarming way about her challenges and her strategies as one of the few women in leadership positions in the Fortune 500. She is critical not only with men, but especially with us women. She knows how difficult it is as a woman in a context designed for men (her example: only when she was heavily pregnant did she notice that there were no extra designated parking spaces for women and pregnant women near the entrance of Google. It never even occurred to the CEO's or her before her own personal experience that this might be a problem. Since then Google implemented extra parking for women)

Her main message could be summarized as: Change starts with us women ourselves, because it is ourselves who are too often afraid, are holding back, demand too little, negotiate poorly or not at all, miss opportunities because of perfectionism, don't accept the challenge first and then look at how the details can then be organized. It is us who need to be aware of our conditioning by society, it is us who need to stand by ourselves, and ultimately it is also us women who need to stand in solidarity with other women and support each other. Sandberg describes biases that not only men have towards women, but also we women ourselves have. Men and women generally value men's competence more than women's as research shows. Ouch, that hurts, but I can confirm that from my own experience as well.

Not all women should now become CEOs of large companies, or want to have to. Priorities are simply different for many women, but she denounces the social construct in which those who would like to go into leadership roles are systematically hindered. A single mother, for example, works the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs, and earns less on top for her day job compared to a man in the same position. Society is not yet designed in a way that allows women to have an equal career opportunity . She comes to the conclusion, backed by her personal experience, that nowadays to have a full fledge career as a women is only possible with the help of your partner. A woman with a family can only successfully fulfill her leadership role and that of being a mother if her partner actively supports her and if there is enough money for childcare. Nevertheless, even then there are always sacrifices, as she readily admits. Missing school plays, not being able to list all the names of the kids' friends, or missing the dress code for a party and thus looking embarrassed in front of the other supermums. Guilt is always just a heartbeat away. We have to muddle through and accept that today's situation is still far from perfect.

Conversely, men should also have the freedom to fill "female" responsibilities and competencies without being looked at strangely or discriminated against. The book explains the biases and problems that arise for women in leadership roles well and does not leave one alone, but calls for action. You can learn about how to detect and overcome biases on Two life lessons Sheryl Sanders learned at Facebook and lives by:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Better done than perfect.

Sandberg also recommends to never save on your sleeping hours. One of her biggest mistakes she made in hindsight was too work night hours to compensate for feeling guilty about her work load and family. Something she now calls "stupid". You perform better with a good nights rest + you need to organise and delegate in a way it suits you, not the other ways around.

Clear book recommendation, not only for women ;-)

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