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About Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg is an American technology executive who has been the chief operating officer of Facebook since 2008. Sandberg studied economics at Harvard University and graduated as the top student in economics in 1991. After graduating, she became the chief economist at the World Bank. In 2001, Sandberg became the general manager of Google’s business unit. Due to her impact, she soon became vice president of their global online sales and operations. She revolutionized Adsense, allowing Google to become profitable. Since 2008, she has been working as the COO for Facebook. Her innovative advertising strategy also allowed Facebook to become profitable. During her time at Facebook, she has become an advocate for women to be more aggressive in seeking success in the business world.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013) is a combination of all the lessons that Sandberg has learned as a female leader in business. Over the years, she has identified several areas where women are disadvantaged within the workplace. They are less likely to be within the top roles, judged differently than men when they are successful and struggle to find mentors. That said, Sandberg sees this as an opportunity for the readers to be part of a revolution seeking parity within the workplace. There are several ways you can increase your chances of being successful in business, even though certain odds are stacked against you. These ways are built on the foundation of leaning in, which means accepting challenges rather than resisting them.
Internalizing the Revolution
Sandberg starts by explaining that one of the barriers to women adopting leadership roles is that they cannot imagine it. They can’t imagine themselves as future leaders. This is because women are already underrepresented as leaders, so young women cannot recognize many examples of female leaders. Sandberg uses the example of Obama to support this point. Obama was widely understood as a role model for people of color, as he was the first ethnic minority out of the 44 US presidents. Obama becoming president signaled that this job was also open to people of color. This is showcased by a photograph of a five-year-old black boy, Pete Souza, inspecting Obama’s hair. This photo is used as an example of the child recognizing himself in the then-president. We are still yet to have a female US president, so young girls do not have the same role model to aspire to be like. So, instead of internalizing a role model, young girls and women must internalize the revolution. Imagine significant changes in society where more and more women are being hired in managerial roles.
The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
Sandberg provides examples of the huge leadership opportunity gap between men and women. She highlights several statistics to show why some women are afraid to even have the ambition to become a leader:
- Women hold only 25% of executive- and senior-level jobs
- Women hold only 20% of board positions
- Women hold only 6% of CEO positions
- Only 22% of legal partners are women, despite roughly half of the associates being women
- Only 17% of the jobs of people working on the top-grossing films are women
- Only 10% of state governors in the US are women
The reason women struggle to have ambition is that this gap isn’t expected to close significantly. Current projects show there won’t be parity in leadership roles until 2085.
Success and Likeability
“For the time being, I fear that women will continue to sacrifice being liked for being successful.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Another struggle for women is they are often criticized for the same qualities that men are praised for. For example, researchers found that women who negotiated promotions were perceived as bossier and more aggressive than their male counterparts. Men are also perceived as confident and impressive when they talk about their success. At the same time, women are considered boastful and arrogant. This was particularly apparent during Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidential nominee race. Clinton was judged harshly by the media on the same qualities they were using to praise Obama. For example, the media believed that Obama taking time to consider his words before he spoke showed he was intellectual and serious. When Clinton did the same, she was portrayed as inauthentic and untrustworthy. Again, Sandberg believes the solution to this problem is more women getting top leadership roles, like the presidency. Once this becomes the norm, women will stop being held to different standards.
It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder
“There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” – Sheryl Sandberg
A common saying in the business world is “moving up the career ladder.” Sandberg believes this saying isn’t particularly accurate for women. She argues that a jungle gym is a better description of careers within the business world. There isn’t a single path from the bottom to the top of the business world with careers. So, it is less like a ladder and more like an environment with several setbacks and dead ends.
The jungle gym pursuing a career means you may have to accept a job that is not quite what you originally hoped. Instead of viewing this negatively, Sandberg recommends you notice the advantage of having multiple routes to your ultimate goal. This also means you must be flexible to succeed. Sandberg uses an analogy related to rocket ships to summarize this chapter. She explains you wouldn’t question which seat you are assigned if you are offered a seat on a rocket ship. So, instead of worrying about minor details of how you reach your goals, just be glad you are on the ship and will arrive at your destination.
Are You My Mentor?
“I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty,” which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Professional mentors are often seen as an essential part of any aspiring leader’s career. That said, Sandberg points out that it is much harder for women to find these mentors. Mentors are generally attracted to people of a similar demographic. As there are disproportionately fewer women in leadership roles, there’s a shortage of female mentors. This issue has been made worse by men worrying that it is inappropriate for them to be mentors of younger women. Although men believe this will harm their careers, this also impacts women’s careers. The author explains that people without a mentor are generally less likely to receive challenging assignments, receive raises or feel satisfied with their careers. This means women have to stop being dependent on a mentor for challenges and raises. They have to take a different route that might take longer but is potentially the only way, simply because they are a woman.
Seek and Speak Your Truth
Sandberg states that an effective leader should be actively seeking and giving feedback. This should be from your superiors, employees and colleagues. Sometimes seeking advice from unexpected places will provide you with the most value. The author offers the example of when she asked a newscaster to assess her performance after an interview. The most effective teams are those that encourage open conversation between all employees.
Don’t Leave Before You Leave
” Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family. Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.” – Sheryl Sandberg
This chapter covers how women should deal with the dilemma of having children while developing a career. Unfortunately for women, when their careers demand maximum time investment, their biology demands they have children. Sandberg believes women are too busy preparing to have children before it is even a possibility. She provides the example of a time when a young girl at Facebook asked Sheryl about balancing her work life and children. After probing, Sheryl learned this girl had no children, was not pregnant and didn’t even have a husband. This example shows that women are worried about the trade-off between work and children before they need to. Instead of making a single decision to leave when they are due to have a child, women make a series of small leaving decisions. These decisions close doors that provide career opportunities to women. Sandberg calls this leaning back. Avoid doing this and lean into your work until you actually reach the point you have a child.
In this chapter, Sandberg also considers the difference in the way women and men are treated when they announce a pregnancy. Men are met with a brief congratulations before getting back to work. Women are congratulated before a lengthy list of questions about their plans for their career during and after motherhood. Society always assumes the man will continue with his career while the woman will slow down and potentially give up work entirely. Many women do decide to quit work as they believe childcare is not worth the cost. Sandberg disagrees, arguing you should think about the effect continuing with your career will have on your future salary.
Make Your Partner a Real Partner
” The single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg believes your choice of partner is crucial when seeking to balance parenthood and your career. She believes women and men must work together to eradicate sexism in business. At the moment, men need to be doing more than they currently are. The Pew Research Center found that ⅔ of women are aware of gender-based discrimination, compared to less than half of men. Sandberg describes nudging techniques as one of the most effective approaches. Small changes in a man’s behavior can have a big difference. Men who are an advocate for female colleagues experiencing discrimination are what Sandberg would describe as a “real partner.” Another nudge technique would be a man offering to share tasks traditionally given to women, like taking notes. Sandberg also believes women have to sometimes be advocates for men within the workplace. Men tend to face more criticism if they take time off work for childcare, which more significantly impacts their chances of a promotion. This is part of why only 4% of men are full-time parents, which has a significant impact on their future careers.
Sandberg believes women must also learn to be supportive partners. Men need to be empowered within the home, as women can be overbearing and prevent men from contributing. An overbearing mother will be frustrated by the amount of work, while the father will be frustrated by their lack of responsibility within the home. This approach will also significantly derail a woman’s career. So, find yourself a real partner who is willing to share responsibility.
Lean In aims to help business people, especially women, succeed despite the limitations placed on them. The key is to lean into all opportunities. Instead of expecting an easy ladder to your career goals, prepare yourself for a jungle gym where you have to take unexpected jobs to reach your end goal. There are several factors out of your control, like differences in the ways men and women are judged in the workplace. That said, internalize a revolution where you are one of the few leaders who can inspire other young women to seek leading roles. By doing so, you can become a role model to women in the same way Obama has become a role model to people of color.
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
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