On the Demon Bookshelf: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
This is the book behind the phrase lean in that has swept feminist discussions, an empowering message to all women – and not just to the elite few at the very top of the corporate ladder. Sandberg writes in a clear tone about the importance of asserting yourself as a female, and building the confidence within yourself to do so in a professional environment. Personally, I was really excited to read this book, as I see Sandberg as an inspirational, trend-setting career-woman, but I was also sceptical that there would be anything relevant to me or any students I know, as she is, of course, the CEO of Facebook. I thought the book was written really well, though, in a concise style, and it raised important issues surrounding the inequality of both sexes.
There have been reviews that slate the author’s status, and therefore dismiss how Sandberg can relate to most of us, which is understandable. One criticism I have to also make of the book is that there is hardly any mention of women of a different race. The phrase ‘white feminism’ has come under serious scrutiny recently, for good reason, and although it’s part-memoir, and Sandberg was mainly contributing the experiences of hers personally, I feel like she could have included some more debates surrounding that topic. It’s disappointing to read a book by yet another feminist career-woman I admire, who has once more left out some really serious concerns to do with race, wealth and status.
In general, I felt that the book worked well highlighting situations in which a woman is not only put down, but is putting herself down too. And these are universal concerns that can also be applied to other areas of discrimination – I felt that the book was quite similar to Thrive, by Arianna Huffington (the founder of the Huffington Post). Although the two writers are quite different in tone, as Huffington focuses a lot more on mental health and self-discovery (Sandberg is less ‘fluffy’, more corporate-sounding, maybe), I think that they’re brilliant voices of women high up in the working-world.
Lessons to take from Lean In:
1. Never let yourself feel like a fraud.
As students, there are so many deadlines to meet, events to go to, and we’re constantly proving to ourselves or our lecturers that we’ve put in enough work. Perhaps this quote won’t resonate with everybody, but Sandberg hit the nail on the head for me here: “Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are – impostors with limited skills or abilities”. There are probably so many of us who feel this way at university, that as soon as we’ve achieved something, it’s ‘only a matter of time’ until something slips – Sandberg recognises this trait, and tells us to stop, to trust our own abilities. (This, of course, applies to men too.)
2. Allow yourself to be brave and lead.
“When a girl tries to lead, she is often labelled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend.” How many times do we keep our mouths shut when we know we could say something to contribute? No. Go for it.
3. Make your important decisions based on your own happiness.
This is advocating assertiveness rather than selfishness. Sandberg highlighted an important point relating to times of stress and confrontation: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Sandberg, surprisingly self-deprecating, and yet praising herself at times too for her in-built assertiveness, speaks about doing things for ourselves, for our own value-systems. Even if you aren’t heard at all, at least it’s doing something productive for your own happiness, which builds a sense of trust in yourself too.
4. Keep learning and taking things on.
Possibly the opposite of Huffington’s approach (to say no more often and keep a less full diary), and not good advice perhaps to anybody who thrives off being busy too much already… But I liked the quote: “Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it.” To me, Sandberg speaks about the importance of picking up new projects, whilst always having the ability to discard them once we’re done learning.
5. Be fearless
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
And that, I think, applies to everybody!
3/5 Cups of tea.
Sheryl Sandberg’s famous TED talk below: