A couple months ago, I decided to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Although it was met with much acclaim, it has also faced quite a bit of criticism. Nevertheless, this book has become my new bible! As I turned each page, I couldn’t help but think how spot on Sandberg was. She delicately expressed the difficulties in balancing motherhood and a job, while guiding women to take charge of their careers and closing the leadership gap between men and women.
I think most of the critics of Lean In are women who don’t aspire to become leaders of organizations and cannot fully relate to Sandberg’s seemingly overambitious, type A, superhuman temperament that permeates the words on each page. Being CEO of one’s household carries its own challenges and is hard work for a woman. However, Lean In focuses on the struggles of women and mothers who face the challenge of fulfilling the societal characteristics of a good woman/mother/wife while advancing their careers.
I could write on a variety of topics that Sandberg touches on in her book, but I decided to start by deconstructing a portion of the chapter titled “The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” In this chapter, Sandberg speaks about the self-fulfilling prophecies that are introduced during childhood and reinforced as we grow up. Society has become comfortable with seeing one woman at the table in a boardroom, but we have not adjusted to a woman leading the entire board. It remains an anomaly to not only have a female running a company’s division, but to have a woman as the chief executive.
Sandberg points out that since more men aim for leadership roles, they are more likely to obtain them. Although women have progressed since the 50s, societal pressures still cause them to keep an eye on marriage from a young age. It is not that women are less ambitious than men, it’s just that their aspirations change more dramatically as they grow. Additionally, cultural messages reinforce the ambition gap between men and women. Someone recently coined the term “bawse” to characterize a man or woman who seems in control of his or her life/destiny. But Sandberg notes that when women try to lead they are still labeled as bossy (in a pejorative way, not they way Kelis celebrates it in her track). And even though some women may say they don’t need to be liked, they only need to be respected at work—that’s a lie. Almost all women care about being liked especially in the workplace.
It’s time for women to bridge the performance gap! What would you do if you weren’t afraid? This is the trillion-dollar question. We’ve all heard someone (or ourselves) say “man I wish I could/did …” Oftentimes for a woman, fear is given as the reason why she hasn’t accomplished a goal. But what if we weren’t restricted by our fears, what would we do? The answer doesn’t have to entail bringing world peace or single-handedly ending hunger in developing countries.
“Risk taker” is far from a characteristic that is befitting to me. I recognize the things I would do if I were fearless would require me to live poorly or marry rich. Nevertheless, if I weren’t afraid, I would pack up and move to South Africa with my doggy; I’d become a legal consultant or study the history of the country and write a book comparing the struggles and current lives of South Africans vis à vis black Americans; I’d focus my practice of law on the truly indigent; I would live in a Spanish speaking country and submerge myself in the culture. live more and care less. Bottom line is there are so many things that I would do if I weren’t sometimes frozen from the fear that accomplishing these goals would preclude me from having other important things in my life–like a family.
After finishing Lean In, I will no longer live through my fears! As Sandberg points out, the world needs more women to aim high, lean in to their careers and run the world because the world needs us to change it. Women all around the world are counting on us.
“Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.”