Go on, lean in
Aug 22 2013
With a foreword by HSBC director Naina Lal Kidwai, the book asks the important question that despite there being numerous women in the workplace at the entry level, why are there so few women in positions of authority? And in the process of asking this question, she discusses how social, cultural, psychological as well as biological hurdles keep pushing women backwards at every step.
Sandberg shows how internally, women hold themselves back by keeping their ambitions low —because that’s what social and cultural norms condition them to do. And in the classic catch-22 scenario, women who do set their sights higher end up being penalised for it: because people consider them too pushy, or selfish. So ironically, the same qualities and achievements would be lauded in a man while a woman would be all the less liked for it. There is the very interesting Heidi/Howard case, where two groups of students assigned same ‘competency’ but different ‘likeability’ levels to an individual whose achievements were described to them—merely because one of the groups was told this person was ‘Heidi’ and the other was told it was ‘Howard’! So ‘Heidi’ — a real life entrepreneur whose case was being studied —was rated a more appealing colleague by the group who were told she was ‘Howard.’ That, in short, sums up pretty much how the gender scales are tipped.
However, Sandberg reasons, when there would be a great number of women at the top, how many would you be able to hate? (Can’t argue with that!) But more than that, she talks about building a feeling of the “common good”, where women help other women to the top. And the men who would like to see the world better balanced could lend a hand, too. Not tagging affirmative action as “asking for special treatment” is surely a good way to start.
Arguably the best part of the book is the very down-to-earth advice for achieving that “work-life balance”. “Done is better than perfect”, which simply means that striving for perfection in both your workplace and your home will only end up making you feel like a failure. Prioritising what needs to be done 100 per cent perfect and what can be tolerated at 90 per cent makes up an essential part of this ideology.
The chapter ‘Make Your Partner a Real Partner’ busts one great myth: women who have no family responsibilities have a better shot at getting to the top. Sample this statistic: “Of the 28 women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 26 were married, one was divorced and only one had never married.” The secret of their success, obviously, was a partner who understood that not only must women be more empowered at work but “men must be more empowered at home”, sharing their half of the home-and-child-care.
Sandberg acknowledges that this is a slow-moving process and requires both internal as well as external barriers to break down. But meanwhile, you’d do good to lay your hands at this book. And keep it by your bedside — forever. Or at least as long as it takes!