»Lean in«: A review

»Lean in«: A review

Christmas is over, but I think there is one gift left for you to give yourself – Read the book of Facebook´s COO Sheryl Sandberg »Lean in« and learn some valuable lessons about women and how we can succeed in the workplace and in life.

by Carlotta Schäfer

Lean in – into being more than you allow yourself to be.
I have to lean in and you and every other woman, at least according to Sheryl Sandberg. What
she means by that is that we have to overcome the internal barriers through which we hold
ourselves back and hinder our progress, especially in the workplace. So women are the problem
in all of this? Funny, because I thought we had finally come to the understanding that it is not
women’s fault that we are paid less, respected less, and do not receive equal opportunities but
society’s and the way its structures have been working against us for centuries. At first, I was
off put by the idea that a woman suggests the way to address gender issues and discrimination
in the workforce is for women to question themselves and change their behavior. Isn’t this
exactly the opposite of what we should be doing? Why do women always have to question
themselves? I refuse to give up on this realization that it took so long to establish: We are not
the problem and we have every right to expect and demand equality. But after reading the book
I understood what she really means by telling us to lean in: it is an appeal for women to battle
society and its structures by not letting them indoctrinate us and influence our behavior. So she
does not want us to change ourselves but to let our true selves act and not the version of us
defined by societal expectations. So here are four lessons I learned from Sheryl Sandberg.

Keep your hand up
We need to feel confident to reach for opportunities and have to stop the tendency of
underestimating ourselves because men rarely make this mistake. Especially in the workplace,
it is crucial to believe in our own abilities and project confidence because it is an environment
that rewards putting yourself forward. Women have internalized that they need to stick to the
rules, be humble and fit in. This translates into behavior such as not thinking outside of the box,
not applying to that promotion and not being able to praise one’s achievements. Or in another
case lowering your hand when asked to. When Sheryl Sandberg said towards the end of one of
her talks she would only take two more questions all women put their hands down after two
more, but several men kept their hands up. And since hands were still waving in the air, she
took more questions – only from the men. So women have to stop behaving the way society
has taught them to and institutions and individuals have to acknowledge this issue and support
women defying these instilled expectations.

Don’t leave before you leave
It is common knowledge that women think about family planning earlier and more than men
do. I was sixteen when my grandfather asked me for the first time how I was planning on
juggling it all, family and a full-time career since that was what he expected of me. Women are
used to getting asked these questions starting from a young age which is also when most of us
start worrying about it. It is not for our gender-specific love of planning decades ahead or
because we love to think about childcare arrangements when we’re still children ourselves, but
for the purely pragmatic reasoning that without a plan we are not going to make it. And just to
be clear, there is nothing wrong with planning ahead, but we cannot let our practical rationale
lead to irrational decisions. This means that women often tend to lean back in their careers
months and years before they even expect to have children. We let this precaution influence our
decisions too much when what we should do is treat this issue more like men do. Getting
pregnant and having children does not make us a liability even if society has told us otherwise.
So we have to be aware of our own limits and everyone has to make decisions they feel
comfortable with but the fact that we are biologically capable of bearing children should not
make us feel like we have to already prepare for our workplace exit and scale back years in

Make your partner a real partner
All of these changes in our mindset and behavior only work if they are supported by institutional
and societal change as well. This not only refers to society as an abstract but to each and every
man in a relationship with a woman, especially if they have children together. For decades
women have listened to the worn-out argument that they are simply more naturally inclined
toward nurturing and that traditional gender roles and care work distribution are rooted in
biology rather than sexism. But even if mothers are genetically more nurturing, fathers can
match that skill with knowledge and effort. If women want to succeed at work and if men want
to succeed more at home, these expectations have to be challenged, because this is not about
biology but about consciousness. So men have to step it up at home. To make this work we
have to create an environment that better supports women who want to continue working or
start again but we also have to support men and stop making them feel like outliers for wanting
to stay at home with their kids. Because we have watched women conquer the working world
but at the price of adding their workload to their care work. Like Gloria Steinem put it: now
we know that women can do what men can do but we don’t know that men can do what women
can do.

Talk about it
Another important lesson we should all take from this book is that we have to start talking about
it more openly. Sheryl Sandberg leads by example by sharing personal stories and giving insight
into her thought process as well as into moments where she battled her own internal barriers.
The key – like with so many things in life – is honesty and the courage to talk about things that
feel uncomfortable. We need to be able to talk about gender without people thinking we are
crying for help, asking for special treatment, or about to sue. Because talking can transform
minds, which can transform behaviors, which can transform institutions. It is uncomfortable for
men to address these issues as well, but because the majority of managers are men, we need to
make them feel like they can talk about these behaviors and the ways to change them, openly.
Even though this book is now almost ten years old, sadly the problems it addresses are still as
current as they were back then, supporting Sandberg’s thesis that our revolution has stalled. We
have come a long way and so many women have fought for us to enter the workforce and break
the glass ceiling. Now we need to walk through that broken glass with confidence and seize
equal opportunities where they exist and create them where they don’t. Fitting in may seem like
the safest path forward but does not pay off for women as a group. So let’s lean in, in the
workplace and in life, even when it seems hard.

Beitragsbild: Unsplash

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