Women's Leadership & Mentorship Program at Robert Morris University

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Book Review – Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

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Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

By WLMP Cohort Member, Megan DeArmit.  Megan originally wrote this post for her summer internship with Congressional Candidate, Steve Larchuk.   


As an eighteen year old standing at the start of my adult life, I’ve been confronted with the daunting prospect of my career: what I want to do, how high I want to dream, and how I want to get there. Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book offers insight on women and leadership. As current COO of Facebook and a former Google executive, she can speak with some authority on the topic.

Sandberg uses a variety of examples from her own experience, as well as the experiences of friends and colleagues, to highlight women and our timidity to contribute to discussions, our insecurity in our leadership ability, and the necessary steps we must take to be successful and fulfilled in all aspects of our lives.

Throughout the first half of the book, Sandberg encourages women to “sit at the table” and engage with colleagues despite lower level positions. She reminds us that men would have no reservations in offering their opinions no matter their position, so why are we hesitant to offer ours? Sandberg also communicates that the road to success is “not a ladder, but a jungle gym;” there is more than one path to take when looking for promotions and more responsibility within any career. She notes that sometimes taking “two steps back” while seizing a new opportunity is not the end of the world. It can actually have the opposite effect.

While women have proven to be just as competent as their male peers, if not more, they are still not given the same amount of credit or opportunity. Men are considered assertive and confident when they succeed in the workplace, but women are considered “bossy” and “cold-hearted.” This subtle, yet also incredibly blatant, sexism is extremely disheartening for women who are more than capable of directing and leading.

Sandberg suggests that most of women’s resistance in aiming for leadership positions is the societal stigma of a working mother and the fact that women statistically tend to do more of the work when it comes to parenting and keeping a home. She uses several co-workers and team members as examples, saying that a lot of them were hesitant to accept new job opportunities because of the potential impact on their families. Not only does this occur with women who are already mothers or about to be, but also with women who are not even married yet. They are attached to and affected by the cultural idea that women cannot be good mothers and good leaders. Sandberg argues that this is why only 4.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.

This leadership ambition gap can also be paired with the fact that a man is rarely, if ever, confronted with the idea of not being a “good dad” because he also has a career. Sandberg notes that a marriage is a partnership and more women would be willing to take higher positions if their partners contributed more in parenting. She acknowledges that a lot of men do this already, but hopes to encourage the ones that don’t. Sandberg insists that maternity and paternity leaves should be longer, paid, and of equal time to encourage both family and career life. It would likely encourage more women to seek career advancement, rather than run from it to protect their desire to be “better parents.”

Sandberg has a unique ability to inspire women to achieve their own goals – whether they want just a career, just a family, or both – while also reminding men of their essential role in pushing women to their fullest potential.

A better Congress will incorporate these maternal and paternal needs into health care reform as a way to encourage both women and men to aim as high as they want without worrying about the impact on their families.

Interested in writing for WLMP’s blog?  Contact fostere@rmu.edu


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