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Lean In and keep the conversation going

I know I’m a little late to the Lean In conversation but luckily the conversation has not stopped since the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In in March 2013. Hitting New York Times’ bestseller list and selling more than 600,000 copies in three months is no small accomplishment.

Sandberg received a lot of mixed responses to her book, with some calling her modern day feminism’s role model and others calling her a hypocrite who is full of contradictions. (Despite my positive feelings for Sandberg and Lean In, I feel a bit differently about Facebook and its treatment of women.)

Although I quickly found myself nodding along in agreement as I read, I acknowledge, as Sandberg did in the first chapter, that this book and Sandberg herself are not perfect and certainly don’t speak to all women, nor should she have to.

Whether or not you fall in the same demographic as Sandberg, the book is an inspiring and eye-opening read for anyone interested in supporting women in the workplace and all of the positive benefits that come with having female leaders (even for men!).

The title and theme of the book may sound simple but are interpreted differently by different people. When I read the book for myself, leaning in meant making a conscious effort to be ambitious and confident in your career goals. I heard and appreciated Sandberg emphasizing that it’s okay (important even) to be proud and demand what you’ve worked for.

Although Sandberg mostly focuses on making changes in the ways we think and behave, she acknowledges that the lack of women leaders is not our fault.

She clearly states that there are larger institutional and organizational issues at work against gender equality, but believes that we will reach a solution to larger societal issues only when more women are in charge and making decisions.

This may sound like it’s putting pressure on women to change, but if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? Sandberg states, “We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.”

Other topics of note from Lean In include:

  • Giving reasons women are jealous and competitive with other women without blaming them, but pointing to a system that has made us feel that way and made it that way.
  • Importance of mentorship.
  • Making your partner a real partner. Sandberg discusses the problems women have when trying to juggle childcare and a career as well as the discrimination men can face if they are doing more childcare instead of the stereotypes.
  • Viewing your career as a dynamic jungle gym versus a one-directional ladder.
  • Women selling themselves short (while men overestimate their value), from tests in school to salary negotiations.
  • “Don’t leave before you leave” — staying ambitious and career-minded regardless of future family plans.

I could go into all of Sandberg’s main points and inspiring quotes but I’m going to stop here. I do see Sandberg as a role model — any successful woman in a male-dominated world is important to me, especially because of her desire to share her experiences to support other women and make change.

Pick up a copy of Lean In today if you haven’t already! Just talking more about women and gender in the workplace is a great start. Now that Sandberg’s started the conversation, it’s up to us to continue it and support each other along the way.

Katie Boyer is a writer at heart who works in marketing at Goodreads and lives in Oakland, CA. She spends her free time analyzing the media, reading, writing, bicycling, and playing with her pet rabbit.

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