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.
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.
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.