July 17, 2015

Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In for Graduates


Lean In For Graduates is Sheryl Sandberg's account of why women struggle to succeed in business and how we can change that, structured by ten rules like "Sit at the Table", "Don't Leave Before You Leave" or "Seek and Speak your Truth". The Graduates edition also contains a "Letter to Graduates" as well as additional material in the back, stories of how Lean In changed other peoples' lives and advice from other successful women in business, ranging from emotional support to find your own path to very practical tips on applying for jobs - from the cover letter to negotiating a salary. 


Believe me, my liking - even loving! - this book was by no means a given thing. 

After reading Laurie Penny's "Unspeakble Things" where she states that the problem was not how to get more women into boardrooms but why there are not more boardrooms on fire, you could call my expectations towards "Lean In" at least...let's say...limited. 

But the point Sandberg makes, not too obviously, but convincingly, is that to change the situation of women in the world everywhere, we need to start somewhere. And it is no mystery that the greatest power to actually change things cannot be found in not - for - profit organisations and voluntary work at the library (although I do that and think it's amazing) but the big institutions in politcs and economy. Whether we like that or not. 

And even if we don't like that or don't ever want to work there, Lean In is a strong contribution to the struggle for womens' rights today that I believe every woman should own a copy of (and read it - several times!). That's because Sheryl Sandberg is an intelligent woman that worked hard to provide an interesting and inspiring account of giving women the recognition they deserve in the workforce in general. 

Instead of offering a very long letter to women everywhere encouraging them to "live their dream", "make no compromises" etc. etc., Sandberg mixes valuable (although often - heard) advice with backup in the form of statistics and numbers as well as personal experience that is educational, funny and inspiring. 

For example, Sandberg addresses the issue of women not speaking up for themselves. But instead of just telling us to "raise our voices" and "make a difference", she acknowledges the fact that, statistically, women are perceived more negatively if they are successful career - wise than men are. And that, when negotiating for themselves, women come across as less sympathtic in contrast to men who are perceived as competent when doing the exact same thing. 

Thus, her advice - based on the statistics and the experiences she made herself - is, just one example, to reflect your sense of teamwork and community when negotiating for yourself as a woman, i.e. by stressing how a higher salary for yourself will benefit the entire team by creating a highly motivated team. 

This advice, just like pretty much everything else she says, can be scrutinized by the question of why women should obey the rules that oppress them in the workforce in the first place. The reason is, and she addresses this argument head on several times, that women almost never make up 50% of the powerful institutions of our world. Thus, we do not have the power to change all the rules at once. We must get there first. 

No matter whether you're trying to become the next CEO of Google or Facebook or want to be a stay -at - home mom or are a successful - male - young professional in business: This book is for all of us. If we want to live in a world where as many people as possible actually recieve equal treatment and equal opportunities, there are a couple of suggestions in this book that, if enough people follow it, could really make a difference. 

I should mention, though, that - depending on what you want from the book - you might want to skip some chapters. For example, Sandberg discusses the role of man and woman in the home and family care to a great extent. For a 20 - year - old single student like me, who takes her rule of "Don't Leave Before You Leave" very seriously, that got a bit boring and even repetitive. However, some parts of the "Graduates" edition that I read might apply to students and - well - graduates more. I especially enjoyed Mellody Hobson's essay on owning who you are - and maybe changing the rules of the game a bit to fit you - and Rachel Simmon's account of listenning to your inner voice and breaking the rules of everybodies' expectations. These essays again show how this book is not "just for women", but for everyone. The men, the successful and the not-so-successful, the blacks, the whites, the straights, the gays. 

I'll finish this up with saying this book gave me confidence and a positive outlook on life and work and whatever comes next. And it didn't do that by striking like a bomb with a lot of inspiring quotes, but by carefully analysing what - statistically - is wrong with our world, how others have experienced and changed that - and how we can do that, too! 

I hope you have a good day! 



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