LEAN IN by Sheryl Sandberg

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Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

I don’t read a lot of business type books, but I received an invitation from Random House to host what they were called “an authorless event” around this book, and I took them up on their invitation. They sent me flyers about Lean In, bookmarks and a DVD with a few brief messages from the author, including one geared towards book discussion groups. They also sent me book discussion guides.

After reading the book – which I ripped through in one Sunday afternoon – I could see why there has been so much hype around this book. The title alone, “lean in,” has become part of the vernacular. The book is part memoir, part career advice, and eminently personal. It reads as if Sheryl were there in the room, just having this conversation with you, the reader. She talks about some of the difficulties she’s overcome, and ones she still faces. She talks about her personal life, the “myth of having it all” in which working women seamlessly juggle a career (not just a job), a family, keeping a home, and do it all without any help. She calls BS on that, in her own way, and talks about guilt, the importance of choosing the right partner, and even suggests way to get your partner to do their fair share.

Sheryl’s dream is that half of all executive positions in America will be held by women, and half of the people doing the majority of the parenting will be men. She dreams big, and so far it’s worked for her. She is the first to point out that she is very lucky to be able to afford hired help, and to have such a supportive husband, but even with all her blessings, she still carries guilt around.

She talks about the importance of raising our children to respect leadership and talks about how little girls who show leadership are called “bossy” and little boys who do likewise are encouraged. She talks about why women should “sit at the table” and not fade into the background, why girls should raise their hands and speak up, even when being admonished for doing so, while it is acceptable for boys to do the same thing.  She has facts and figures to show that women are hired or promoted based on their accomplishments, while men are judged on their potential.

One of the more interesting statistics was about how people feel about feminism:

Currently, only 24 percent of women in the U.S. say that they consider themselves feminists. Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism — “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”– the percentage of women who agree rises to 65 percent.

Frankly, I was surprised that number wasn’t even higher.

This is a well researched book with footnotes that are clearly laid out in more than 30 pages of notes in back, and there is a detailed index as well. Since I mostly read fiction, I forgot how wonderful it is to have an index when you are looking for a quote like the one above. The icing on the cake is that Sandberg founded a women’s empowerment nonprofit, LeanIn.Org.

In my day job, I’m a librarian for the Palm Beach County Library System and I’m the programming librarian at my branch. That means I’m responsible for creating a community oriented variety of programs that will hopefully inspire, educate and entertain, and on a really good day, maybe stimulate some discussion that lasts long after the program ends. I decided to build a program around this book, and my recent Business Women’s Networking and Book Discussion did just that.

I was fortunate to have access to a couple of really good resources, Susan Berger, our Business Librarian, and Sharon Geltner, the Small Business Development Center Certified Business Analyst at Palm Beach State College. Both women have done programs at my library, so I invited them to each speak briefly about the free resources available to businesses in Palm Beach County.

Then it was my turn to facilitate a book discussion of the Sheryl Sandberg book, and it was enlightening and better yet, started the seed of something bigger – a Lean In Circle. This is an inspirational and important book, and I urge anyone who works to read it – both men and women. There is a new edition called Lean In for Graduates, which expands on this book with additional chapters “offering advice on finding and getting the most out of a first job; résumé writing; best interviewing practices; negotiating your salary; listening to your inner voice; owning who you are; and leaning in for millennial men.”

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Knopf; 1 edition (March 11, 2013). ISBN 978-0385349949. 200p.

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