Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, offers advice for women in every stage of their careers in her book Lean In.
For women just starting their careers, there are passages asking them to “sit at the table,” advising a more proactive involvement—advice that can be taken literally—such as making sure women join their male counterparts at the conference table during meetings, rather than off to the side as spectators, as they sometimes tend to do.
Increasing self confidence by making intellectual and emotional adjustments, or simply by projecting confidence – whether real or presented as such – can also help women “sit at the table” as women have been found to be much more critical of themselves—compared to men—in the workplace. The examples provided often include Sheryl’s experiences and some show how she has faltered, making the book, which is filled with data from McKinsey & Company and Pew Research, relatable, relevant and lively.
It was surprising to see the number of points brought up (passing up a promotion because of a pending pregnancy; feeling like a fraud; unexpectedly crying in front of a senior staffer; attributing success to luck) that could be found as relevant to so many women who never considered their gender as a (negative) factor in their professional life.
One chapter cited data on men and women’s likeability in relation to their success in the workplace. The most profound example was the “Heidi” and “Howard” experiment, conducted in 2003 by Columbia University and New York University, intended to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace by using real life entrepreneur Heidi Roizen. Half of the students were asked to read about Heidi’s story and her rise to success as a venture capitalist, while the other half read about Howard, (really Heidi), so she appeared as a he. While the students found both Heidi and Howard equally competent, and respectable, Howard was more likeable than Heidi, who was seen as selfish and “not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” Sheryl explains how our biases and stereotypes of men and women play into how we perceive them as bosses or colleagues. (How would you would perceive your boss (or a past boss) if he or she was the opposite gender?)
Other must-read passages discuss: being “relentlessly pleasant,” adopting a long-term dream and an 18-month plan, going for jobs despite not meeting the criteria 100%. (The book cites an internal Hewlett-Packard report that men apply for jobs if they feel they meet 60% of a job’s requirements.) And then there is the chapter called, “The Myth of Doing It All” which Sheryl offers as “the greatest trap ever set for women.” She suggests asking the “more practical question of ‘Can we do it all?’”, with the obvious answer a resounding no.
Sheryl addresses early on (page 9) that her book is not a feminist manifesto “okay it is a sort of feminist manifesto but one that I hope inspires men as much as it inspires women,” adding that her goal is really to increase a woman’s “chances of making it to the top of her field or pursue any goal vigorously….I am also writing this for any man who wants to understand what a woman…is up against so that he can do his part to build a better world.” As such, the major takeaway may be that some of the conditions set forth in Lean In should be changed by women, men and by the institutions that employ them.
The universality of Lean In sings to a broad audience of both sexes as Sheryl deftly brings up subjects that some may never have considered an issue related to their workplace experience, but after some thought, can relate to their own life’s experiences. In Lean In’s 172 pages and another 34pages of detailed notes, Sheryl has indeed created a manifesto, just not one for women only.
For more career development advice, check out CEW’s Young Executives: Cocktails & Connections event, Mentoring to Enhance Your Career on April 10th. CEW Chairwoman Jill Scalamandre and Matrix’s Nancy Tarantola will share insight on the importance of mentorship and how advising, learning & reverse-mentoring can advance your career or professional development.