Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been getting a lot of heat for her new book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead." Critics say she is a billionaire with enormous privileges and a message that doesn't resonate with the vast majority of women. Lofty careers? Seventy percent of the world's poor are women, and this chick worries about getting ahead?
Well, Sheryl didn't write a book about how to erase poverty. And she didn't write a book about single moms and how to make ends meet. She wrote a book for ambitious young women who want a family and a career that will take them to the highest levels of leadership. She wrote a book to engage in a public discussion on why women still trail behind men at work.
I'm way outside her target demographic, but I bought it anyway figuring there would be a few nuggets for those of us beyond childbearing age. The book is a pleasing mix of personal reflection and scholarly research. For me, it wasn't so much a personal guide to success but a status report and wake-up call on what happened after feminism faded.
We didn't finish the job. Women still make less than men, and we still aren't getting where we want to go. Still taking care of the children, still cleaning the house, still trying to figure out if it's worth it. For a lot of women, it's not. A startling number of women drop out or back off, settling for less responsibility instead of leaning into their careers. Sheryl says go for it, lean in ... hence the name of the book.
Among the many things I liked about the book is its social platform. She kind of picks up where feminism left off. Sheryl wants to help women succeed, but she also wants to change the conversation about equality for women. We haven't had that conversation in awhile, and I applaud her for taking a stance. Women have a long way to go to achieve their full potential in our society, and I think Sheryl's thought leadership will help us get there.
Most of the book didn't apply to me and never did. I did not want children, so I didn't have to make any hard decisions there. I aspired to be successful, and I've worked long and hard at my career, but I never imagined myself leading an entire company. In my family, getting a college degree was a big deal.
There were a few personal takeaways, though. I like the idea of leaning in when your soft jelly center says give up. Even mid-life professionals can relate to that! Sheryl also says, "Don't leave before you leave." In other words, don't make choices or declarations now that will limit you later. I translate that to, "Don't retire before you retire." Stay in the game -- it's not supposed to get easier.
One thing about the book bothered me at first, but I'm over it now. I was reading it on my Kindle, and it showed I was about 66 percent done, but I could tell she was wrapping up. All that extra space was for acknowledgments. OK, so it takes a village to write Sheryl Sandberg's book. From "writing partner" to a researcher who is an expert on gender and social inequality to her friendship with Gloria Steinem, it becomes clear how privileged Sheryl really is.
So what? She has an important message, and I'm glad she used her resources to tell this story. There are a lot of young, talented, ambitious women out there today who want a career in business and aspire to the highest levels of leadership. With the right support, these young women can make a difference. This is the book I would give them so they know it's possible.