Gini Dietrich

Lean In: Inspiring, Empowering, and Why You Should Read It

By: Gini Dietrich | August 29, 2013 | 

Lean In- Inspiring, Empowering, and Why You Should Read ItBy Gini Dietrich

Alert! Alert! Alert!

This blog post is going to make some of you angry.

I read “Lean In” and I wholeheartedly disagree with the criticism the book has received. My guess is most of the critics haven’t read the book or they wouldn’t have made the arguments they did. Which kind of sucks (like spin sucks), but I also understand we live in an age where long-form content is becoming less and less…consumed (I hate that word, but can’t think of a better one).

Content, of course, has to be written and if you can criticize a book on the topic without having to read it, I guess more power to you.

I think that is exactly what has happened. Not with all of the criticism, but with a gross majority of it.

Heidi Sullivan, the senior vice president of digital marketing for Cision, and I were talking about it last week and she said, “I felt inspired and empowered after I read it.”

I did, too. Let’s talk about why.

The Leadership Ambition Gap

The interesting thing about all the buzz you hear about the book is about the concept of how we should lean in, but the truth is, it’s only about half of one chapter.

I run a business. Most of my team are women. Some have kids. Some do not. What I have found in the eight years I’ve been running a business is women DO lean away from promotions or bigger jobs when they think they might get married or they think they might have children or they think they might stay home with kids…someday.

The concept of “leaning in” is to go after your dreams. Have the ambition to want a leadership position. Go for that promotion. Do what you want with your career until the time has come to make a different decision.

It’s a Jungle Gym

Which leads me to it’s a jungle gym, not a ladder.

Mitch Joel talks about this concept in Ctl Alt Delete, too. Many of us think we have to make a decision about the rest of our lives when we’re 18 and then we get stuck in jobs that followed our degrees and we hate our lives.

By the time you figure out what you’ve been doing for 10 or 15 or 20 years is terrible, you have responsibilities so you stick with it.

But here’s the thing, you don’t HAVE to do that. You also don’t have to shy away from a promotion or a bigger job right now because you might have a family in five years. When you think about it that way, it’s the most ridiculous and illogical thing ever. Yet, many, many women do this.

The way to where you’re going is not a straight ladder. You’re going to hustle across the jungle gym…and that’s okay!

Sit at the Table

While you’re hustling across the jungle gym, though, find a way to sit at the table.

She tells a story in the book about how, when she began a new job, she was invited to a big meeting. Because she was new to the organization and she didn’t yet know the protocol, she arrived in the conference room and took a seat in one of the extra chairs that was not at the table, but towards the back of the room in a corner.

During the meeting, she listened, she took notes, but she didn’t speak. At the end, the big, big boss asked her what she thought and she faltered a little bit, saying she didn’t yet have an opinion because she had just started.

Later, her pulled her aside and told her not only did he hire her to hear her opinions, she needed to take a seat at the actual table.

You Don’t Have to Be a Man

Sit at the actual table, spread yourself out by sticking out your elbows, and take up as much room as you can without making the person sitting next to you uncomfortable is some advice she gives when it comes to how men and women behave differently.

But she also doesn’t argue that we have to behave like men. She points out some differences and provides some insight, but overall, she supports different styles in the workplace.

It’s here where she talks about her friend, Marissa Mayer, who was taken to task in the media for taking only two weeks for maternity leave. She says,

So many people said she’s undoing women’s equality, but she’s not. If she required everyone at Yahoo! to take only two weeks for maternity, that would be undoing women’s equality. But she did what she thought was best for her, her family, and her job.

In fact, Mayer has since doubled the length of time for maternity leave and began to offer paternity leave for her employees.

The point here is women’s equality is about making the choices that are best for us. If you want to take two weeks or 12 months maternity leave, that is entirely up to you. If you want to be the CEO of a Fortune 10 company or work inside the home, that is up to you.

We have the choice and it doesn’t have to be what our male counterparts would do or what society thinks we should do.

What Was So Inspiring

But what I really, really loved about the book is this wasn’t about Sheryl Sandberg and her privileged life, like so many of the critics have proclaimed.

This was about the way women behave, the things we do in the workplace and at home, the way society thinks we should behave, and the way we treat one another.

A few additional things I thought were really interesting:

  • In 1975, our mothers who worked at home spent 11 hours per week on direct childcare (feeding, bathing, reading). Today, mothers spend 11 hours per week on direct childcare, even if we work outside of the home. But we feel guilty it isn’t enough because society now says we have to be helicopter parents – arranging playdates, spending three hours a night on homework, going to 16 different activities. What happened to, “Go outside and play?” like our mothers made us do?
  • Of the 22 women who are CEOs of major corporations, one is single, one is divorced, and 20 are married. The 20 who are married have extremely supportive spouses. The point here is “having it all” is making sure you have someone who supports you completely.
  • Women make up more than half of the world’s population, but because we often fight one another instead of working together, we don’t have nearly half the power. Can you imagine what would happen if we all worked together toward a common goal?
  • Women don’t learn how to negotiate. Either we take the first offer and don’t try for anything more or we settle for something we know won’t work. After I read that, I made a promise to myself that, every time we sign a new client, I will negotiate the contract. It’s not easy, but I keep asking myself, “What would a guy do in this situation?”
  • If women had jobs they loved, they more than likely would return to work after maternity leave. Like we talked about in What the Opt-Out Generation Means Longer Term, too many women leave their jobs because they think it’s cheaper right now to not have to pay for childcare. But what they fail to realize is they’re also losing the years of investment they made in their education and in their careers to that point, not to mention the years not working.
  • Many women (myself included) relate success to being liked. I remember when my Vistage Chair asked me a very important question. He said, “Would you rather be liked and not get your business where you want it to go or would you rather be respected and actually grow this thing?” Of course, I want to be liked, but being liked does not equate success.

Mostly what I loved about the book is I see so much of myself in many of the concepts she discusses. Yes, I took some risk and started a business. Yes, I have an intense drive. Yes, I am competitive.  Yes, I am goal-oriented.

But I also do a lot of the things so many of us do…and it’s holding me back.

It’s also holding you back.

Read the Book

Every, single woman who earns a paycheck in any form needs to read this book.

If you work from home and have a handful of clients – clients you have to negotiate rates with every so often – or you work in a Fortune 500 organization and are trying to find your way, this book is for you.

If you make your living editing or sewing or baking or watching children or writing or are practicing law or are a teacher or are a doctor or run a small business or are an entrepreneur or are on the corporate ladder on your way to the executive suite, this book is for you.

If you work inside the home and ever hire contractors to help you out, this book is for you.

This book isn’t about privilege or what some of us have that others don’t. It’s about being able to achieve anything we want. It’s about knowing when to lean in, but also when to lean out. It’s about deciding what your definition of having it all means…not what the rest of us want it to mean.

It’s about truly making the choices our mothers and grandmothers fought so hard to let us have.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.


My mother gave me this book and I'll admit, I rolled my eyes. It sat on my shelf until I read your review and thought, I could use some inspiration. 

Gini, I absolutely agree. I found it very inspiring and yes, while it did feel like a stroll down someone else's career path, for me that wasn't a bad thing. It helped me to identify with her and because of that I felt less alone in my own career choices/decisions. I found it so inspiring I decided to start my own content marketing and social media consultancy.

I came back to this blog post because I wanted to thank you for your suggestion.  Thanks. (Love your blog.)

Susan Hart
Susan Hart

Just finished reading this book as part of a women'a business book club. While I agree with many of your points, I found the book to be a recollection down someone else's career path that's more exception than the rule. While the author's experience involves much bigger brands and more global travel, I've had more learning lessons from working in testosterone-driven workplaces (corrections management can do that) where leaning in was a matter of survival, not an option. Because I'm older than the author, I also didn't feel like I gained a tremendous amount of insight. HOWEVER, with that said, I agree with you in that all women under 40 should read this book, especially if they're navigating a jungle gym or career ladder!


For what it's worth, I thought about this thread a 2nd time on my way into work this morning. Why couldn't I get "Lean In" out of my head?

Then I remembered, I'd nearly used it as the subject line of a recent "Sales Idea" post to my distributors a few months ago. I'd written a piece to my field force about old habits dying hard, about trying to shake off the "comfortable" inflation riders they'd been selling which were unnecessarily high-priced and instead trying to learn the modern-- albeit unconventional-- affordable options.

To hook them into reading my post, I needed a cogent subject line which conveyed the direction of my article. At first I tried: "Inflation Protection: Lean In". But it didn't sit right with me-- although I instinctively felt like Sheryl's title was a push toward something progressive and revolutionary, the fact was: I hadn't read the book, and worried that I didn't really like using it out of context.

So-- at the great risk of mixing politics and business-- I settled on: "Inflation Protection: Lean Forward"!

/ I'm sure it arched an eyebrow or two, but no one gave me any grief ; )


So here's the thing:  I haven't read the book...but, I get the notion of leaning in. In the last few business meetings I've had, I leaned in big time. Instead of sitting back, dealing with it later...I took the bull by the horns.   Leaning in will often take others by surprise...but the satisfying result is worth it. 


Hi Gini,

I’m leading with my credentials…I read the book shortly after it was released. It didn’t empower me. It frustrated me. Throughout the book, there seemed to be a condescending undertone that was critical of women that didn’t choose to “lean in” by Sheryl’s standards. She says that women should be able to lead the lives they want while criticizing the way some choose not to “lean in.”

I often joke that I had to go to college to learn that I was short and women couldn’t do anything they wanted. No one mentioned my height or questioned my choices prior to my first year in engineering school. I’ve had the privilege of being the only professional female in a consulting firm (twice), being the COO of Ballard Designs, founding my own firm, AND choosing to downsize so I could spend more time with my children. The path hasn’t been easy but it was my path designed by my choices.

There have been many times that I didn’t “lean in.” Every one was a decision on my part. Given the chance, I wouldn’t change that decision for most of them. The opportunity to become President of a large company was turned down because I wanted the flexibility that came with choosing my workload. My takeaway from Sheryl’s book was that I made the wrong decision AND I let younger women down in doing so.

The statistics were interesting but the book as a whole didn’t deliver what I was seeking. I wanted a book that I could share with my daughter to start a conversation about the real world she’ll enter in a few years. I’ll stick with the practical suggestions in “Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead... But Gutsy Girls Do” by Kate White.


Totally agree about your assessment of "Lean In"...I felt so empowered after reading it. I could not understand the negative criticism because I spent a majority of the book nodding my head in agreement.  I even recommend it to my friends that are fathers so they can understand the unique perspective their daughters will bring to the business table.


@ginidietrich Great piece! I wasn't interested in Lean In for some of the reasons you mention, but now I'll check it out.


@ginidietrich Alert Alert Alert I've seen interviews w/ Sheryl S., but I'm very interested in *your* book review cause I value your opinion.


I was reading this post, got about a third of the way through and realized immediately that you are dead wrong! I don't even need to read the rest. I know everything there is to know about the point you are making. 

In all seriousness, I haven't read the book and yet all of the criticism seemed very shallow to me. I might have to just pick this puppy up now.


"we often fight one another instead of working together,"

I am grateful every day to the ladies at the agency where I cut my teeth. It was as if every female executive made a pact to influence the up and comers (I can't believe I fooled them!) 

One senior copywriter sat us all down to encourage us to start saving for retirement. 
Another pulled me aside and talked to me about how to lead without disparaging myself. 
Others would show compassion and guide or point out the things you were doing that made them take notice. 

It was a GREAT atmosphere. 

Sadly, when I tried to return the favor (I encouraged her to pursue her goal of earning a degree in marketing so no one could hang their hat on that missing component when she looked for other jobs. I am such a monster!), she took it the wrong way.  Later, she came to me and said, "I should have gotten my degree. What do I do now?"

I'm hoping she earns that degree. I'm hoping some media buying firm has snatched her up, because she was BRILLIANT! 



'The point here is women's equality is about making the choices that are best for us'

That's all I have to add today friends since any other #petropwer babbling (in my usual charming style) would simply circle back to this fundamental truth.


You know, I never really had much of a desire to read the book. But, after attending an event for a new women's organization in Nashville that will use principles from Lean in a couple of weeks ago (and after reading your review), I have more of an interest in it now. 

Love the takeaways you mentioned - especially about negotiating. For my first job out of college, I tried negotiating my salary (with a women business owner, mind you!) and the owner wouldn't budge. I just rolled over and took it. I later realized to never settle on the first offer EVER. When my husband was in law school, I sat in on a seminar at the school about negotiating salary and other things. So helpful. More women need to understand that they can earn more if they just don't say yes the coming out of the gate.

All that said, it sounds like the book could be especially useful for me as a business owner. I'll have to give it a read!

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

GERT!!! Now I need to read this book... as you are correct... some of what you said REALLY annoyed me and I must see for myself.

How do you say this:" It’s about deciding what your definition of having it all means…not what the rest of us want it to mean" but say this: "What would a GUY do in this situation???"


Why is personal issues only an issue for women when it comes to work place choices?

I know plenty of GENTS who suffer in jobs (especially in this economy) mainly because they want the reliability of the paycheck and the stability it provides. I know my decision making calculus on my career changed radically the moment I had a family and not just a wife or just myself. 

While this book is probably aimed at a female audience (correct me if I'm wrong), I'm sure other males on here would agree that these are not mutually exclusive issues. You characterize part of the problem as women in the workplace "fighting" and not working together, but doesn't thenotion that everyone's choices should be a-ok and just as valid as everyone else explain that? 

Women and men often can not understand others' choices. That's not unique...

which gets me to" What happened to, “Go outside and play?” like our mothers made us do?"

GERT GERT GERT- helicopter parents are in part created for SO MANY reasons. You over simplify with "just go out and play???" If you have an ounce of concern for our kids, you look at the rapid change that has occurred in the last 20-30 years in terms of all the influences in kids' lives, and like most parents, I say "I can't believe our kids can't grow up the way I did." 

I can fully understand the point that women are pushed more into the guilt over work/family dichotomy... but so much of that seems self-imposed (or maybe I'm wrong) - its my sense that we have moved more and more towards the idea that whatever works for your family in terms of two-working-parents is A-ok... especially in this economy.

But I also know that it doesn't stop the guilt. I just don't know if I see it coming from "society."

This is a discussion that will keep happening until women do not feel guilty about the work/family dichotomy (no matter the source) and men make sure it does not happen.



@Susan Hart I come from a "corrections town" -- I think I have a sense of what you're referring to!

ginidietrich moderator

@Debra_Ellis Interesting...I didn't feel that way at all while reading it. In fact, the "lean in" part of the book was so short, I felt like maybe there wasn't enough about it. In your example of turning down the president job, I read the book totally chose to "lean out," in that case, to have the flexibility. And my takeaway from the book was that's okay and we shouldn't judge you for making that decision. 


@ginidietrich Thank YOU! I was excited about the book when it first came out so this convinced me I need to read it even more.

ginidietrich moderator

@faybiz My dear Todd, this is a book written about women's equality. I certainly don't discount some men face the same things. It was my take on spending 10 hours with a book that I highlighted, read, and re-read...and then thought about for a month before I sat down and wrote 1,500 words. Much love to my male counterparts, Gini


@tinashakour It's crazy, isn't it? Let's criticize something we haven't actually read. Because that makes sense.


@ginidietrich Must decide if I want Kindle version or not. This seems like a book that needs to be read in hardcover. :)



Having different perspectives is a good thing. I’m glad that you were inspired and hope that you can leverage your inspiration into a better future.

My issue is primarily with the disconnect between what is said and what is used as examples. While Sheryl said that we shouldn’t judge the choices others made, there were many things in the book that felt judgmental to me. Our perception is defined by our experiences. The example of women from the Treasury Department sitting along the wall reminded me of personal experiences where women challenged me because they thought I should have handled things differently.

The book doesn’t give us many details about the meeting other than to say the invited guests sat at the table but Secretary Geithner's team chose to sit off to the side. They were there as the Secretary’s staff, not invited guests. We have no idea of the office politics behind their decision. After Sheryl confronted the women about not moving to the table when invited, she said they agreed with her. In summary, the women attended an executive meeting at their boss’ request. They chose to sit away from the table. After the meeting, Sheryl told them that they “should” have moved to the table without knowing why they didn’t. It seems judgmental.

The founder of a firm where I was the first and only female consultant conducted seminars. I always enjoyed accompanying him. He introduced me by saying, “although she looks like she could be a ballerina, she is one of the best engineers I’ve had the privilege to know.” I took his statement as it was meant: a compliment. Women told me at every seminar that I should be offended. I never disagreed with them because they were making judgment calls without knowing the facts. This experience left me asking, “did the women in Sheryl’s example really agree or were they simply trying to move away from an uncomfortable confrontation?”

Starting a dialogue about improving women’s advancement opportunities is wonderful but more is needed. Action has to be taken to change the status quo. Sheryl is in a position to start the process. Seeking a highly qualified individual for an unpaid intern position hardly qualifies as leading the charge. The intern relationship is usually win-win. People get experience that improves their qualifications while the organization gets labor.

Lean In Foundation’s advertisement for an unpaid intern listed qualification requirements above the normal expectations. The ad read, “Wanted: Lean In editorial intern, to work with our editor (me) in New York. Part-time, unpaid, must be HIGHLY organized with editorial and social chops…Design and web skills a plus!” After the ad starting receiving negative feedback, it was deleted and this was posted:

“Want to clarify previous Lean In post. This was MY post, on MY feed, looking for a volunteer to help me in New York. LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers. This was NOT an official Lean In job posting. Let’s all take a deep breath.” If it isn’t an official Lean In job posting, why does it lead with “Wanted: Lean In editorial intern?” 

The bottom line for me is that I read the book hoping for something to pass on to my daughter. It disappointed me. I remain hopeful that a movement will start that changes the status quo. So far, that has been disappointing too. Hope remains eternal.


@ginidietrich @jonmikelbailey Um, did you read my whole comment? No. Because if you did you would see that the first part was a joke and the second part was nothing but sincere praise. Geeez, I mean, geeez.


@ginidietrich right? Pick one quote you saw on a blog from the book and form your opinion around it. Ugh!


@eplastino I actually listened to it while I rode my bike. There were times I came dashing back to my desk to write down what I'd heard.


@ginidietrich @eplastino I do that, too! IT's bad when I'm looking for the "Skip Back" button on the radio... in the car... and realize there isn't one. 


@ginidietrich @CommProSuzi @eplastino WHOA - I know this is old ... but I don't think I realized you had read Orange is the New Black ... I am glad I read it via audio. The author ( @piper ) is very active on social media.


  1. […] For a great discussion of the jungle gym analogy, I encourage you to visit Gini Dietrich’s post about Lean […]

  2. […] The facts and stats Sheryl Sandberg presents on the topics of women in the workplace, salary gaps, competition, ambition, and work / family / life balance will make you stop and think — I definitely did. It’s amazing how many inequalities that women still face and the obstacles we put in our own way at times. Still, a couple of the points fell flat in my opinion but I won’t get into that here (criticisms of the book are heavily documented if you Google ‘reviews of Lean In.) […]

  3. […] but that’s mostly because I think we are our own worst enemy in so many ways. There have been many discussions about this here on Spin Sucks, and I could rant on about this for some time, but I’ll leave it at […]

  4. […] time-consuming activity, but “CEOs who take the time to read about the experiences of other chief executives and other business leaders have an advantage.” […]

261 Total Shares