Lean In

There’s been a firestorm of feminist debate following the release of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In. While she was recently ranked 2011’s 5th Most Powerful Woman (worldwide) via Forbes Magazine, she didn’t want to embrace it…she was frightened of it. Sandberg feared being disliked because of that power–seen as overbearing rather than successful.

According to her book and her interviews, this stigma dates back as far as the playground. Little girls that take charge are seen as “bossy,” whereas boys are “leaders.” Aggressive for men is a compliment in the business world, while it’s a negative for women in the same arena. Sandberg says that it’s not the confidence of men, but the low confidence of women in themselves.

However, as a woman with such an accredited background supported by not one, but two Harvard degrees, other women activists aren’t sure how much of the “struggle” Sandberg truly represents. Some have called her a cheerleader with pom-poms dressed in Prada. Both opinions are valid in their own sense.

Despite the controversy, there’s a common value here: women are undervalued in the workplace. No matter which way you slice it, corporate or business owners, public or private sector, women are still only making .77 cents to every dollar that a man earns. I read the review via Forbes by Elaine Poldfelt titled, “Don’t Lean In, Walk Out.” She pointed out the flaw in most critiques of this book. It doesn’t simply apply to the corporate world; in fact, why don’t more women look for success of their own rather than that determined by a company’s hierarchy? That idea struck a chord with me because I am a single mother (to a 2-year-old–not the easiest stage) and a business owner trying to get my company off the ground.

I want to encourage more women to look for creative solutions to further their confidence and self-worth–primarily to define it for themselves. Now, I also understand this still may happen in the context of a predominately male market. But, with more women chipping away at that wall, the quicker it will fall. So many women are intimidated of this idea. Many don’t even take the risk because they fear sacrificing the role of mom, wife, or family woman.

If there is one positive thing we can try to learn from all of this, it’s that there’s strength in numbers and an even bigger strength in ourselves. Build each other up and we could change the current “business” landscape.

Perhaps we end with this quote by Sandberg in her interview with NPR, “I don’t believe that everyone should make the same choices — that everyone has to want to be a CEO or everyone should want to be a work-at-home mother,” Sandberg said. “I want everyone to be able to choose, but I want us to be able to choose unencumbered by gender choosing for us. I have a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Success for me is that if my son chooses to be a stay-at-home parent, he is cheered on for that decision. And if my daughter chooses to work outside the home and is successful, she is cheered on and supported.”

Learn more about the origins of Lean In here as well as Sandberg’s nonprofit Leanin.org, where women are encouraged to share their stories and build a support system.

What do you ladies think?

(Photo credit: Amazon.com)