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Cut to the Chase, Give Me Real Advice - My Takeaways from Lean In


After reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, I had two initial thoughts: 1) There are a lot of really good tips in here for women who want to rise to the top and at the same time 2) There are a lot of pain points ignored, and sugar-coated philosophies that could prove to do women a huge dis-service. First and foremost, I am all about women empowerment in every way - I marched in the 2004 Women's March for Lives on the national mall in DC with over one million protesters. I visualize myself as an executive level leader one day. I very much support women being vocal in the workplace and combining forces to make a difference. But also feel there is a very fine line between a support circle to help women succeed and an all out media campaign seemingly focused on drawing attention to talking points that are not looking at the real problems in the workplace.

Taking it with a Grain of Salt

Sheryl Sandberg does a pretty good job at outlining a few specific tips for women in the workplace in the first half of her book and below I highlight the ones that resonate with me the most.

That being said, Sheryl Sandberg doesn't represent the woman I want to be, nor does she feel relatable to me as a 20-something career gal. Sheryl ignores large problems in the workplace, undermines her recommended tactics with ill-fitting experiences, and glazes over a major factor in what it takes to rise to the top.

Sheryl doesn't claim to be an expert but it's a shame to lead a movement that doesn't address real problems like sexism, cultures non-conducive to family life, or particularly here in Silicon Valley, the 24/7 expected work hours. We should be rallying to tackle these issues by directly encouraging change in the workplace. As noted by my friend Kate Losse " a manual for navigating the workplace, it teaches women more about how to serve their companies than it teaches companies about how to be fairer places for women to work." For an in-depth (partially devil's advocate) review from this point of view, give Kate's Lean In review a read.

Sheryl encourages readers with specific tactics and attempts to support with her personal experience, though many times this fell short for me. She inspires us to set boundaries with your work and says she did just that when she leaves work at 5:30pm for dinner. But she also tells us that she works once her children are asleep and then wakes at 5am to answer email. This is not setting a boundary, this is telling us we can set a boundary but we'll have to work tirelessly around that boundary just to keep up.

Rising to the executive level takes a lot of hard work and while Sheryl alludes to this throughout the entire book, she never explicitly states the level of commitment it requires. If you're going to encourage women to move forward with executive level aspirations, you should be clear that it is going to take a lot of time, work and dedication. Also, see the 24/7 work hours point above.

Now the Good Stuff

All of this said, Lean In does provide an collection of researched and actionable items we can use in our lives. Whether you're aiming for a promotion or rising to a senior level position, these tips are valuable to keep top of mind. Here are my re-interpreted highlights from Sheryl's book.

1) Everyone is faking it: Sheryl calls this the 'Impostor Syndrome' where women fear one day everyone will find out that it's all been a sham. We're not qualified! Well we are qualified. Also, everyone else is faking it until they make it anyways so carry on.

2) Take credit: We're guilty, women are too humble and we need to proudly take credit for the hard work we do. Such as when someone provides a compliment to your outfit you must say "Thank you" instead of "Oh this old thing?" - transfer same logic to your job. You bought the dress and wore it well = you did the work and did it well.

3) Stop caring if everyone likes you: Or as Sheryl says "It's ok to be bossy". If you try to please everyone, you won't get anything done - or be able to voice your real opinions. Though in the book research states that likability of women lessen as they gain power in comparison to men, but a recent Harvard Business Review study disagrees. So keep being assertive ladies.

4) Don't leave before you leave: It truly saddens me how many times I watched someone make a decision based on a man who wasn't even in her life yet, or pass an opportunity because they felt they should situate their life for domesticity that wasn't even in progress yet. I agree with Sheryl here that you should not pre-plan your life and bat away opportunities for a family life that hasn't even started. You can always update your life choices later.

5) Have confidence: lean in, sit at the table, speak up, go get what you want by explicitly asking for it. Success isn't going to come to you, you have to go get it. All easier said than done, but if you take anything from this book it's that you should attempt to practice this in life.

6) Choose partners wisely: Not everyone is in a situation where they have a happy and supportive partner, I understand that. But if you're making the choice, by god choose a partner that is happy, supportive and helps around the house. If you decide you're rising to the top, it's important you're on the same page because it's a journey you'll both be a part of. Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox suggest grabbing a parter 20 years older - interesting advice but her reasons why are relevant.

Where I Lean

For me, Lean In is better as a general guide to navigating the current workplace more than a manifesto for a movement to follow. But I'm still going to recommend the book to women in my life who need to hear this reinforcement. I think it's incredibly important to build out a support circle of women who want to take control of their careers. Just keep in mind ladies, talking the talk is a lot different than walking the walk, and I believe women should be taking more real action and drawing less attention to the fact that they are women. We can change the workplace by committing our time to companies who are building the work culture we deserve - set real boundaries, find organizations with women in executive positions, work with HR to make your company friendly to family schedules, look into your company's plan for your professional development or ask that they provide it - these are all things you can do right now.