Lean In

The last self-help book I remember diving into was How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I plucked off my dad’s bookshelf when I was 12 years old, bored, and more than a little socially awkward. So I didn’t expect much more than Silicon Valley gossip from Lean In, a rallying cry to working women written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I certainly didn’t expect it to bring me to tears.

So much of the discussion about women in the workplace has revolved around the ”mommy wars.” But I’m a thirtysomething for whom the life part of the work/life equation means dating, not diapers. Lean In is the most cogent piece of writing I’ve encountered that speaks to the internal and institutional forces that can trip up an ambitious woman, whether she has a baby on board or not.

Sandberg shares her experiences — crying at Google, working in Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers’ hotel room until 3 a.m. and then sneaking out to avoid getting caught in the gossip mill, and even negotiating her deal with Mark Zuckerberg (something she only did when pushed by her brother-in-law not to blindly accept the initial offer). The social science she marshals is ultimately juicier, though. There are studies showing that women get less credit than men for helping out colleagues, and others demonstrating that both genders perceive successful women as less likable. Is this the stuff of a basic gender-studies class? The thick chapter of footnotes says maybe. But it’s thrilling to hear it not from a professor but a powerhouse.

Sandberg admits that it was her first pregnancy that woke her up to many of these issues (it also inspired her to introduce expectant-mother parking spots at Google). She exhorts women to lean in to work and to expect their men to lean in to family: ”The single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

There’s already been criticism that Sandberg is preaching from an elite perch, but the whole point is that she wants to pull more women up to sit next to her. We haven’t all had the benefit of mentors who’ve led universities and corporations. But the wisdom Sandberg shares here is a gift that all women (and all partners who support them, in the workplace or at home) should give themselves. A