by Linita E. Mathew

    A Glance Into Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead”

    “I have written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential. I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto.” (Sandberg, 2013:171)

    Sheryl Sandberg’s national bestselling novel may have sprouted from the need for pregnant parking while she was carrying her child, or it may have been a seed planted earlier that grew overtime as she consistently faced challenges throughout her life. Challenges that continued to arise simply because of her gender – being born a woman. The book gives an eye-opening read into the prejudices and discriminations that woman often face, external and internal, that come from trying to carve a niche in what used to be, but often still is, a man’s world. Each chapter of the book gives a thorough look into a variety of issues that hold women back from reaching their heights. A summary of Sheryl’s work can be highlighted by four main themes where inhibition for women occurs: in society, in the workplace, in motherhood and within our own selves.


    A feminist is defined as one who advocates for the political, economic and social equality for all. Often, the term feminist itself carries a negative connotation, as do the women who carry the cause. Thus, the first inhibition women often experience is from their surroundings. “Lean In” discusses the stereotypes of successful woman as being bossy, whiny and even less attractive because they are thought to dedicate too much time to their work and not enough time to their personal lives. While men are capable of having it all, women are seen to hold more value in the home than at the workplace. The Heidi/Howard experiment, as discussed in the book, shows how identical credentials attached to different genders showed a negative correlation with likeability and success towards Heidi and not Howard. Sandberg, herself, is often referred to others as Facebook’s female COO and states that

    “It was a no-win situation. I couldn’t deny being a woman; even if I tried, people would still figure it out. And defending myself just made me seem…defensive.” (Sandberg, 2013: 144)

    Unconsciously, women may add to the impact by taking on the “stereotype threat” where subjects are aware of a negative stereotype and perform accordingly because of it. Because many women are in positions where they are worried about how they will appear, they stay quiet about the treatment they receive.


    We can be working women and we can be mothers, but apparently we cannot be both. And, this becomes our second inhibition. Even in the 21st century this topic is an ongoing debate among both men and women.

    “Today, a “good mother” is always around and always devoted to the needs of her children. Sociologists call this relatively new phenomenon “intensive mothering,” and it has culturally elevated the importance of women spending large amounts of time with their children.” (Sandberg, 2013: 135)

    Women enter the workforce at different stages of their lives and with different goals in mind. However, those who would like to become or are mothers are often faced with the guilt of choosing between their families and their career. Some may even begin planning to minimize or end their career before they have even started a family. Sandberg protests this phenomenon by saying: “Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit” (Sandberg, 2013: 103). Rather women should stop feeling guilty for continuing the lives they created post childbirth. “Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers.” (Sandberg, 2013: 137) It is essential to find a real partner who is capable of sharing responsibilities and working for companies who embrace the needs of a family lifestyle. Most importantly, ask for what you need. “Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.” (Sandberg 2013: 155).


    The third inhibition for women is trying to move up the ladder. However, Sandberg transforms the metaphor of the ladder into that of a jungle gym; there are many different ways to get to the top. Women seem to be more reluctant than a man to apply for a job even if all the qualifications match. This is referred to as the Tiara syndrome – good work will get naturally noticed.

    “First, women must come across as being nice, concerned about others, and “appropriately” female. When women take a more instrumental approach (“This is what I deserve”), people react far more negatively.” (Sandberg, 2013: 47).

    If women approach the jungle gym method of moving up in the workplace they will find a variety of ways to grow. The key is to look for opportunities that offer the fastest growth. Next, it is important to connect with a mentor. Sheryl points out that men are more likely to be sponsored than women, and this is why women try harder to find mentors. However,

    “When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works, and yet I see women attempt this all the time.” (Sandberg, 2013: 64).

    Most importantly, Sandberg talks about bringing emotional connections into the workplace. Speaking your truth, being honest and using simple language will foster deeper relationships in the workplace, creating more opportunities to grow.

    Our Own Self

    “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment in our culture.” (Sandberg, 2013: 17)

    Imposter! According to Sandberg, most women travel through their accomplishments not truly believing that they have achieved them. The imposter syndrome is created by self-doubt and women often judge their own performance far worse than it really is. Also, women are more likely to attribute success to external factors and do not acknowledge what it took internally. The book discusses how a study for HP showed that women only applied for a position if they had 100% skill set match, while men applied if they met even 60% of the criteria. This demonstrates how women are less likely than men to acknowledge their strengths, leadership qualities or even take risks. Sandberg draws a visual of this using the metaphor “sitting at the table”. In order to take your rightful seat, you must have confidence in yourself, you must be willing to take risks, and if worse comes to worse – fake it till you feel it!

    “Lean In” is written in order to keep the discussion flowing of how the issues that women face today can continue to be examined and broken down. “True equality will be achieved only when we all fight the stereotypes that hold us back.” (Sandberg, 2013: 168).

    Even though not all women face exactly the same issues, we are all affected at some point in our lives. Sheryl has opened the door, and now it is up to all women to stand together and walk through.

    Did you enjoy this article?

    No comments so far. Be the first! Write your thoughts and/or questions below.

    OGM - Our Great Minds

    * = required field

    We respect your privacy and will never share your information with third parties.