10 Takeaways about Women and Career from Sheryl Sandberg’s Book Lean In – Book Review
In India, a man’s career is given far more importance over a woman’s career. The Woman is still considered the primary caregiver and she drops out of the workforce for reasons like caring for Kids, Elders and looking after the household. This is evident from the dismal percentage of women participation, hardly 27%, in the workforce. I always thought that this is an Indian phenomenon. However, after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Book Lean In I realised that the problems faced by women regarding the career and otherwise are not just specific to our country; Its a global scenario.
What I really liked about the book was that Sheryl Sandberg speaks with so much authority on the subject, afterall she is the COO of one of the world’s primer organisations, Facebook. She has put in a lot of research into this book which is evident from the almost 50 pages of sources that she has enlisted at the end. She speaks from experience and is not scared to share her vulnerability as well. She has learnt along the way and shares some practical solutions for women to lean in to their careers.
Even though the book is heavily focused on the US and some other developed countries it is extremely relatable to us here in India as well. So here’s my list of 10 takeaways about Women and Career from Sheryl Sandberg’s Book Lean In that apply to India as well.
1) A women’s Ambition – In the very first Chapter Sandberg establishes that a women’s ambition is driven by the society’s expectation from her and that’s so true. Even today when you open a matrimonial page/site you will see that a girl’s bio will have characters like Homely, Fair, Pretty, Beautiful, slim and a guys profile would focus more on his career aspirations, education and salary figures. The girl’s parents downplay her education/ salary and focus more on her being very “Homely”. After marriage, it’s the husband and his parent’s prerogative to decide whether she should work or not and this I am talking about educated and progressive families. In order to bring about some change we as women need to stop letting others push us around. The Choice of career and the will to work or not should be ours. Let’s start by not differentiating between our girls and boys right from their childhood and creating a level playing field.
2) Marketing yourself – Sandberg mentions that women are often plagued with self doubt and lack of confidence. We women don’t really like to blow our own trumpet. We feel that if we work hard and do our jobs well, we will be appreciated for our efforts. This just doesn’t happen. We keep working hard and still don’t get noticed. The result, we manage to reach a middle management level and nothing beyond. It’s so important to market yourself. Haven’t we seen how our male colleagues project themselves? They always seem to know their self worth and are confident enough to demand that salary hike/ promotion. In Fact, there were times when my partner had advised me to demand for my worth and I would always downplay myself. Sandberg rightly mentions to fake it till you make it. Even if you don’t feel confident enough, behave like you do as positive self talk does help in this case. So women realise your self worth and don’t be scared to demand what your deserve.
3)Success and Likeability – A successful woman gets a lot of negative comments from not only men but also women. Yes, we are also to take some blame for creating a negative environment around a career-oriented woman. A woman who is delaying her plans for a baby and focusing on her career is stereotyped as “Too career oriented”. A woman who is passionate about her career and leaves her kids at a crèche is also not spared. A woman who reaches high ranks in a company is called Bossy or is typecast saying that she must have used other means to climb the corporate ladder. It’s often said that a woman’s worst enemy is another woman. Aren’t we reinsuring this by our behaviour? Let’s just stop all this negative talk. Let’s encourage each other.
4) Mentally switching off before resigning – I have seen many of my friends, well even I am guilty of this, we mentally switch off from our jobs much before we actually need/want to resign. Our professional lives are majorly governed by what is happening in our personal lives. “Oh, I am anyways getting married in a year’s time and I wouldn’t be able to continue my work so what’s the point of taking up that extra responsibility”. “Oh, we are anyways planning for a baby so I wouldn’t be able to or I don’t want to continue my job when I am pregnant or when my baby is little.” Well yes there are important things that are happening in our personal lives but let’s not switch off mentally much before the actual resigning. Sometimes this period lasts for many many years. This is just hampering our career prospects and in turn hurting us financially as well.
5) Looking for mentors – Sandberg says that women look for mentors to guide and advocate for them. Men don’t do that as much as women. I think this stems from the fact that we women are not very confident about our own inherent capabilities. Don’t we always turn to our fathers, brothers, spouses for advice on career and finance? This in spite of having a whole lot of experience in the two. Well let’s strive to make ourselves self sufficient. Again, as Sandberg says “Fake it till you make it”. If you aren’t confident, act as you are till you actually are!
6) Seek and Speak your truth – We often shy away from sharing any personal emotions at the workplace. We feel that this would expose our vulnerability to others. Sandberg believes that authentic communication is not always easy, but it is the basis for successful relationships at home and real effectiveness at work. So let’s try and speak our truth at the right forum. Maybe to the HR or some senior executive who has a track record of listening to people’s grievances and helping out to sort the issues.
7) Make your partner a real partner – According to me, this one is the most important one in the Indian Context. More and more women are entering the workforce however, the primarily responsibilities of the domestic chores still is entrusted upon women. I know women who wake up at the wee hours of the morning, make the tiffins of their kids/husband, get the kids ready and send them to school and then leave for their own workplaces’. Then come home, cook for the night and so on and so forth. Isn’t this just too much for a day’s work? This while our husbands’ laze around in front of the television. This is partly because of how the boys are raised in this country. Well Sandberg asks us all to share the domestic chores with our partners. And why shouldn’t they? Women are not the sole occupants of the house. Men should have equal responsibilities towards to the household. So Ladies, make your man accountable!
8) The Myth of the “Superwoman Syndrome” – Since a woman packs in more than what she can take in a day’s work she is conveniently given the “Superwoman” crown. She embasks in this ‘glory’ and continues to take on more and more responsibilities with very little or no time left for herself. This Superwoman label is just a hamberg to extract more work from us. Just shun that label and admit it that you are no superwoman. You need time for yourself, you need help in the household, you cannot manage certain things. Just Admit it and take on only those things that you can actually manage.
9) Let’s talk about it more – The word “Feminism” has a negative connotation these days. According to me, A Feminist is a person, male or female, who believes in the equality of the sexes. People are talking about Gender Parity but it’s not enough. Let’s make it a priority. Women get a human aspect into the corporate ecosystem which is important for productivity and job satisfaction of the employees. Let’s talk about our needs. Quoting Sandberg here “The discussions may be difficult, but the positives are many. We cannot change what we are unaware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”
10) Working together towards equality – Let’s admit that even today many of our corporates our bias towards men. They feel women are not ambitious enough or will leave their jobs for certain personal priorities. However, have they ever asked the hard questions to themselves that what have they done to retain the women? There are some women friendly rules put into place but have they been honestly implemented in these corporates? There is still a long way to go to make our corporates friendly for women who are multitasking between home and work. There are multiple steps that can be taken and should be taken to ensure that women stay in the workplace. It’s the prerogative of the top management to ensure equality percolates deep inside the DNA of the corporate.
Sandberg is not just a talker. She feels for the cause and wants to make a difference by ensuring more participation from women in the workforce across the globe. She has created a Lean In Community and encourages people to join the same. You can join the movement at leanin.org and facebook/leaninorg. You can also start or join a Lean In Circle at leanin.org/circle.
So lets Lean In and motivate other women to Lean In as well!