"We can close the leadership gap now. . . . If we push hard now, this next wave can be the last wave. In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders." 
-Sheryl Sandberg

I’ve just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.   For me, the book resonated with my experiences and really focused my thoughts on what I’ve felt about leadership, feminism, and the dynamics of gender as related to leadership. Her 2010 TED talk (link) offers a summary of what’s to be expected from the book, but it not all-encompassing. From my reading, I found that Lean In offered me two main take-aways: (1) a unique perspective on the gender-based discrimination and micro-aggressions that women leaders face and (2) a call to action for the current and next generation of leaders to understand our biases and actively work to promote equally and fairly. 

Sandberg has an approach to explaining her points about leadership that is filled with anecdotal experiences and backed up by data-based studies.  Sandberg’s stories particularly resonated with me and made my experiences feel validated. I’ve faced gender-based discriminations and microaggressions.  Unfortunately, these are not moments that are often brought up in conversation, leading to many people with the exact same experiences to feel quite alone.  No one wants to complain, but everyone wants change to happen. Having another woman, especially one in a position of power, speak out is useful for everyone.  In addition, the well-research studies referenced will be useful to remember for when I, inevitably, try to draw my friends and colleagues in on the conversation – my fellow engineers respond well to data-driven arguments.  This book will be a good resource for enhancing those discussions.

As far as Sandberg’s call to action is concerned, every reader will take something different from her advice. The descriptions of the pressure for women to fit in with the “Boy’s club” really resonated for me, mirroring several of my own experiences. Also of note was her advice on making sure that your opinions are heard – and that, as a leader, you make sure to hear the opinions of everyone.  Her discussion on both listening and speaking up really demonstrates how we can insight change from multiple angles:
If we want a world with greater equality, we need to acknowledge that women are less likely to keep their hands up. We need institutions and individuals to notice and correct for this behavior by encouraging, promoting, and championing more women. And women have to learn to keep their hands up, because when they lower them, even managers with the best intentions might not notice. 
Though focussed on gender, the advice that she gives is universal.  Her suggestions certainly not for everyone - but it's encouraging to see a book stating both (a) why the status quo isn't working and (b) suggestions on how we can change it. A book that had the potential to leave me very angry actually left me feeling very motivated.

I took a lot away from Lean In, and, I'm sure, will continue to think about it over the next several weeks. It's particularly of interest to me because I’m currently thinking about the next stages of my career a lot.  The book did have the ability to make me anxious, at times – the language is strong and unapologetic and often made me nervous that I am not doing anything right with my career. But I came to realize that even if I’m not doing it right,  that’s ok; I’m doing it my way, and that's better.

 


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