Can we give Sheryl Sandberg a break until you’ve read the book and listened to her talk about her ideas? Then perhaps, even if you still disagree, you might give her credit for calling attention to the dismal statistics on women in high level leadership positions — From corporate board rooms to political office to the leadership roles in all segments of the world of work.
Sandberg points out the necessity to look at the system: it discriminates, it is static, it does not do the most simple things to make lives of working women who are mothers easier — like the simple decision to provide quality daycare on site. As you read her thoughts about systems and how they function, you might recognize the organization you work for…. or perhaps did before you took maternity leave and discovered how hard it is to work back into a system that closes rank the minute you leave, regardless of your talent and contribution.
The apparently touchy aspect of her work is the need to look at each individual woman’s behavior. What are the ways you hold yourself back vs, as she says, Lean In…..do you negotiate, speak up, confront, ask for what you want and need, “sit at the table” where decisions are made, imagine you can’t ask for the promotion because you don’t ALREADY know how to do every aspect the new position will demand. Feeling anoyed about this point in Sandberg’s book does not make it less applicable for the majority of women, even if it, fortunately, does not apply to you.
Sandberg basically says both Self and System must be examined. It “is possible I like what she has to say” because she agrees with me. My book Release From Powerlessness: Take Charge of Your Life details the need for women to examine their relationship to POWER — Internal and External — SELF and SYSTEM. My questions are more psychological: “What do you do to keep yourself from being as powerful as you are capable of being?” And after you answer that one, “What would happen if you let all your power out?”
I’ve asked these two questions of business and professional women in presentations across the country for over 20 years. I’m thus delighted Sandberg raises similar questions in this highly visible way. My book is filled with the answers of women from every level of the working world…and answers have a similar ring: stepping up, leaning in, as Sandberg says, is truly challenging. I’ve found you can do it! When you take back the power you have given away, you feel in charge — not in control, but in charge! And even if you don’t get what you want, you feel better and stronger for the EFFORT.
So try looking for the aspects of this new wave of feminist awareness and thinking — in Sandberg’s work, as well as that of many others — that you actually can agree with. Maybe find a way to help another woman if you’ve made it beyond these challenges… And for sure, read more!