Leaning In or Out? Why I Want to Read Sheryl Sandberg's Book.
I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, but I plan to. As the COO of Facebook, she is already an inspiration to working women based on her position of power. But I’ve heard mixed things about her book, and I’m ready to see for myself what exactly she has to say about how women can achieve successful careers.
I work full-time for a company that I love with co-workers that I love even more. My supervisors make me feel valued and give me the power to create and grow, which is meaningful to me since I never envisioned working in the industry I’m in now. I feel very fortunate, as a woman, to have had the opportunities I’ve had to grow with my company. But I am also aware that most industries remain dominated by men, even with all of the conversations about equality and the abilities of the working woman.
Has the testosterone-driven environment of the American workplace affected me directly? I don’t believe so. But then again, it’s difficult to tell having only been working a “Real Job” for 3 years now. The company I’m with is the first and only company I’ve ever worked for, so I don’t have much to compare to. All I have to go by are observations of people around me and the dialogue of other women in the debate.
But I will say that I definitely see how being a woman, or at least acting like one in the traditional sense, can impact our careers. I’ve cried at work once or twice. It was always against my will – I hate having people see my cry. But there have been moments when the stress of my home life and work life collided and the tears started flowing in front of a colleague. It was embarrassing, and I cannot imagine any of my male co-workers breaking down in tears in the middle of a meeting with their boss. I know of other women at my company who have shed tears in front of their managers as well. So I can’t help but wonder how the situation affects us. How are we perceived by our male bosses when we start crying in front of them during a meeting?
And then there are appearances. As someone who trains new people for our company nearly every day, I get an early glimpse at the way our new employees present themselves. There are many variations to what is considered “professional” attire. But there are a lot more variations to that definition for women than for men. For guys, it’s pretty clear: button-up, slacks, nice shoes, maybe a collared shirt. For ladies, there are a lot of options to navigate: skirt, dress, slacks, blouse, colors, shoes, accessories, make-up, hair. It is superficial, for sure. But to say that women should not be concerned with their appearances in a professional environment is naïve. We are judged on our appearances. So are men. It is human nature to look at a person and come to a conclusion about what they are like based solely on what we see. So when we are talking about our careers, how others see us is important. And unfortunately I see too many women perpetuating the sexualization of women in the workplace by the way they dress. To my dismay as a modern feminist, I have discovered more and more that my respect for a person on a professional level is directly affected by the way they dress themselves.
I want to be successful at what I do. I struggle every day with having to leave Little H at daycare so I can work full-time to help pay our bills. There is constantly a part of me that wishes I could stay home with her. But then there is the other part, the pre-mother me, that thinks, “No, no! You don’t really want to be a housewife, do you? You want to have a career!”
As much as it hurts me to leave Little H, and as much as I struggle with the guilt that comes with being a working mom (which is an entirely different post…), I really enjoy what I do. I love seeing my hard work come to fruition. I love seeing other people succeed at their goals because of what I do. My job can be both stressful and incredibly gratifying. I have had several opportunities to move into new positions over the last 3 years, and I have very grateful to be in the position I hold now. It aligns perfectly with my strengths and passions.
But I also think about the future and what I want to accomplish over the next several years, and I wonder what I can do to progress. And that is why Lean In intrigues me. What does Sheryl Sandberg have to say about my opportunities for success? How much control does she think I have on where I go in my career?
The reviews I’ve seen for Lean In have been mixed, with some (Dr. Patty Ann Tublin at Huffington Post and Janet Maslin at The New York Times) applauding her advice for women who want to have successful careers and others (Sherryl Connelly at NYDailyNews.com and Amanda Hess at Slate) arguing that her advice is simply confusing or contradictory.
I’ll be reading her book over the next couple of weeks. I’m open to what suggestions she has for me and other working women, and I’ll be sure to provide an update on what I take away from the book.