Thursday, June 19, 2014

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

Let me begin by saying that this may be the most difficult review I've chosen to write.  That being said...here we go:

To begin, I'd like to highlight my key observations...and some of the truly positive things about this book.  As a woman, I do find it beneficial to read the work of other women in a workplace setting and learn from their experiences. I have learned the following from Sandberg's book...


On earning respect in the workplace: "women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do. And this is not just in our heads.  A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments." p.8


On Fear: "Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of overreaching.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of failure...." p. 25


On Feeling like a Fraud (Imposter Syndrome) -  "While both men and women are susceptible to the imposter syndrome...women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it."  In a lecture to professional women, "...Dr Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Centers for Women, gave a talk called 'Feeling like a Fraud.'  She explained that many people, especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments.  Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made.  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."  In a conversation after hearing this lecture, the author was telling a male colleague about what she learned. His response?  "Why would that [topic] be interesting?"  The author joked that the men's lecture that day might have been titled, "How to Cope in a World Where Not Everyone is as Smart As You." 


On Underestimating Ourselves: "Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is." p. 29  "...when women evaluate themselves in front of other people or in stereotypically male domains, their underestimations can become even more pronounced."  "Author Ken Auletta summarized this phenomenon in The New Yorker when he observed that for women, 'self-doubt becomes a form of self-defense.'  In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others.  We put ourselves down before others can."  p. 41


On Explaining Failure:  "Men and women also differ when it comes to explaining failure.  When a man fails, he points to factors like 'didn't study enough' or 'not interested in the subject matter.'  When a woman fails, she is more likely to believe it is due to an inherent lack of ability.  And in situations where a man and a woman each receive negative feedback, the woman's self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree. The internalization of failure and the insecurity it breeds hurt future performance, so this pattern has serious long-term consequences." p. 30


On Lack of Confidence:  "...a lack of confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy." p. 33  "Owning one's success is key to achieving more success." p.44


On Being More Cautious:  Women are more naturally cautious about things like changing roles in their career.  Men are more likely to chase a new opportunity while women made statements such as 'I'm just not sure I'd be good at that' or '...I've never done anything like that before.'" p. 34  "Women need to shift from thinking, 'I'm not ready for that' to thinking 'I want to do that - and I'll learn by doing it.'" p. 62


On Ramifications of Women Becoming Successful:  "When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women.  When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less." p. 40  Women are expected to be "nice" and when they are aggressive in any form to achieve a goal or advocate for their rights in the workplace, this has negative ramifications.  "...this is why a woman needs to combine niceness with insistence, a style that Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, calls 'relentlessly pleasant.'"  p. 47


On Withstanding Criticism:  "Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, believes that learning to withstand criticism is a necessity for women." p.49.  We can't please everyone.  When Mark Zuckerberg gave Sandberg her first evaluation, he stated that her desire to "be liked by everyone would hold [her] back. He said that when you want to change things, you can't please everyone.  If you do please everyone, you aren't making enough progress." 



My Observation and sense of the book as a whole: The thought that kept recurring again and again (to borrow from Shakespeare) is "methinks she doth protest too much." A large part of the book seemed to be Sandberg dealing with her own guilt as an extraordinarily busy mother because of the high demand of her career.  So much effort went into her research and writing in order to dismantle her guilt complex, that it made me think if its that hard to shake, maybe there is a legitimate reason for it.


Now let me state my position on working mothers: Its fine with me.  Some people are in situations that require it, and for many families in our current economic situation - it is necessary.  I highly respect families that make major sacrifices to keep Mom at home and more available to the family.  My own mother stayed at home for many years when we were small, earned income through in-home childcare, and then went back to work when we were a bit older. I guess I have seen both 'sides.'  Some friends believe that the Bible teaches that women must stay at home, but I do not see that.  It does teach that women are to submit to their husbands and to be caretakers at home. As one scholar stated, Scripture must be interpreted in a global light - many impoverished areas of our world do not allow the luxury of one person working and one at home. Our Good Father in heaven knows and understands each person's unique economic and familial situation and how we can honor Him in the midst of it.  Sandberg's book does give some practical advice and suggestions for working mothers, to figure out how to live the balancing act, including the challenge to the husband to step-up and take responsibility inside the home.


Sandberg is making heavy sacrifices.  She juggles the sacrifices - back and forth between a cost to her family and a cost to her career.  But as I kept reading, I continued to experience an uncomfortable feeling - something just didn't sit right with me.


She refers to an article in The Atlantic in June 2012, by Barnard president Debora Spar. She explores why she and so many successful women feel guilty - "She decided that it's because women 'have been subtly striving all our lives to prove that we have picked up the torch that feminism provided.  That we haven't failed the mothers and grandmothers who made our ambitions possible.  And yet, in a deep and profound way, we are failing.  Because feminism wasn't supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising children better, organizing more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep.  It was supposed to make us free - to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we'd somehow gotten it wrong.'" p 167


I understand the idea of misplaced guilt and how powerful it can be.  But sometimes when I feel that deep, continual sense that I'm somehow 'getting it wrong' its because I really am getting it wrong and something, somewhere deep inside of me needs some attention.  As a Christ-follower, that feeling is often the work of the Holy Spirit.  I cannot judge Sandberg's choices, but I can state the following as standards that I want to live my life by...and even my future possible motherhood someday: 


In response to the subtle urge for women to advocate for their own advancementProverbs 27:2 "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth, a stranger, and not your own lips."  In response to aspiring to a high and powerful seat at the table, Jesus states in his parable in Luke 14, "... When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  And again, Proverbs 25:6-7 "Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble..."


In response to ambition for greater recognition, I choose to believe "It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one's own glory."  Proverbs 25:27  In response to the subtle idea that a successful career is a top priority: I choose to believe that it is possible to gain the whole world but lose your soul. (Mark 8:36)  Sacrificing for the sake of one's family is one of the highest honors a woman can aspire to.   In response to the idea of self-promotion and power: I choose to believe that humility in the eyes of God is of greater worth than all of the professional recognition in the world.  I desire the smile of my Almighty God.  The meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).  Psalm 149:4 "For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation."

The REALITY is that in making these choices - to choose humility and meekness and possibly family over career advancement is that we as women most likely WILL be overlooked, underestimated, and undervalued.  I have been there!  But it still does not change my decision to live by these convictions because ultimately it is not where my value comes from.


Success = becoming more and more like Jesus. 

In being like Jesus:  it is good to give my life away as a sacrifice to others.  It is good to take a low place and serve in a way that is noticed only by a few.   It is good to sacrifice for one's family and for those whose lives may be made better if I give away part of myself.  And anything I 'lose' on earth in service for others pales in comparison with the glory that awaits because I have followed in the footsteps of my Savior.  Confidence in His Sovereignty and in Eternity mean that I can advance or not advance, be noticed or unnoticed, serve and sacrifice and be JOYFUL in it.


I hope and trust that Sandberg someday will find this JOY.  Reading between the lines in her book, I think she is still searching for something.


For those working mothers who read this blog - your motivation for your work is between you and God and your family, I am not giving any blanket judgments. I honor your hard work and the balancing act I know that it is each and every single day.  May God give you His peace, strength, and direction.

1 comment:


  1. In the name of Allah,the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful.

    Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]."
    O People of the Scripture, why do you argue about Abraham while the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Then will you not reason?
    Here you are - those who have argued about that of which you have [some] knowledge, but why do you argue about that of which you have no knowledge? And Allah knows, while you know not.
    Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah]. And he was not of the polytheists.
    Indeed, the most worthy of Abraham among the people are those who followed him [in submission to Allah] and this prophet, and those who believe [in his message]. And Allah is the ally of the believers.
    A faction of the people of the Scripture wish they could mislead you. But they do not mislead except themselves, and they perceive [it] not.
    O People of the Scripture, why do you disbelieve in the verses of Allah while you witness [to their truth]?

    Holy Quran 3:64-70


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