Why We Women Need to Lean Into Our Dreams

Lean In Review
If you had asked me 12 years ago about feminism and the role of women in the workplace, I would have shaken my head and laughed. Having relentlessly pursued an education in the Sciences and pushed myself to exceed expectations in my IT career, I haven’t given much thought to feminism.

Alas 14 years in corporate America while raising 3 kids has forced me to acknowledge the harsh reality of Sheryl Sandberg’s arguments! We women need to consciously pursue leadership opportunities and if none exist create them for ourselves and our fellow women.

What follows is my Lean In book review:

I picked up the book because I was intrigued by her TED talk and what I have read in the media about her accomplishments at Facebook. Having read this book, I admire her even more, especially her audacity and her tenacity!

If you ask any engineer who is dissatisfied with their job (especially anyone who might have chosen a path parallel to mine in IT) they would point to Google as their ideal employer. And they would be right because Sheryl Sandberg started her career at Google and her life has turned out for the better because of it.

I am not saying that Sheryl has had an unfair advantage over other brilliant women, just that from the outset she has carved a place for herself in the world of Technology. Her academic background and the choices she has made over the years have allowed her to consciously forged a path towards her current position at Facebook.

She has taken risks and chances where others would have played it safe. She has actively sought mentors, used her network at Google to form a Women’s leadership forum. She has sought opportunities to lead by example at Google and at Facebook. She has formed partnerships with other women in leadership, and by doing so has set herself up as the quintessential woman leader in corporate America. In this age of social media, she has created a brand that will not be forgotten.

No has had to tell me to sit at the table or to not be afraid to speak up. There is no way that someone like me would even be able to pursue my goals without taking those principles to heart at a young age.

Indira Gandhi once said:

Education is a liberating force, and in our age it is also a democratizing force, cutting across the barriers of caste and class, smoothing out inequalities imposed by birth and other circumstances.

To gain access to higher education, it is crucial to sit at the table at a young age.

But, what no one told me and I had to learn the hard way is that when you are in the right environment, you will be eager to take risks. You will receive opportunities to sit at the head of the table. Sheryl is proof positive that women need to be picky about the company they keep, they need to seek out a mentor and a manager who can recognize their strengths.

I have found women’s leadership at the institutions where I was employed lacking. Their messages have not resonated with me. I have found many of these so called leaders to be selfish and arrogant, unwilling to share credit and unrelenting in furthering their own career.

From what I have read about Google, Sheryl’s message rings true. I believe that she speaks the truth. She allows herself to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge the battles she has faced including those that many of us would rather not divulge – dealing with pregnancy issues while excelling at our jobs and holding our partner accountable for their end of the bargain.

I can only imagine what a difference it would have made if I had been fortunate enough to have worked with a leader such as her early in my career! Many of her essential principles resonate with me and they form the foundation of my own mission statement.

Of all the chapters in Cheryl’s book the one that agitated me the most was “to not leave before you leave”. I don’t agree with Sheryl’s view on this subject. There are many forces at play during life transitions, they are a time for the reawakening of our inner spirit, our inner artist. I find Sheryl’s view highly logical.

Instead I advocate that women reach into their creative mind at such times to make the right decision. Sometimes one has to leave before one is ready so that one can start taking baby steps (pun intended) towards greater success and happiness.

No doubt she makes a strong case for leaning in. I do not dispute any of her essential mantras for gaining respect and visibility in the corporate environment. But, in all her openness, Sheryl does not address the challenge faced by many women (including myself), which is finding a career that is intellectually, financially and emotionally fulfilling.

If problems are indeed prevalent in corporate america, why are we encouraging more women to pursue this path? Why are pushing women through the “difficult doors” where they are destined to suppress the very strengths that make them a unique segment of our society?

As Tina Fey says, the best thing is find other avenues to take charge:

So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.

Most of Sheryl’s advice is sound which is why I gave this book 4 stars on Amazon. I also appreciate the fact that she engaged a researcher to provide a wealth of information in this book.

By all means take Sheryl’s advice, but also use this book as a barometer to gauge how close you are to your ideal career. Use this book as a guide Lean In to your talents and dreams.

Even if you were to do everything that she suggests would you be any closer to achieving your dreams? Or would they still evade your grasp? Would you still be plagued by ageism or sexism that women face in the workplace? How can you build a career where these “isms” do not matter?

Here are a few pointers her book omits:

  1. She offers no clue on how to connect the dots in your career. I urge you to gain clarity on your path. Figure out the best way for you to forge your own path.
  2. If there are many challenges to be surmounted in the corporate world, why not pursue entrepreneurship? Why Lean In to something that doesn’t support your way of life? Sheryl leaves a gaping hole on this subject.
  3. How do you find joy in your work? Seek the company of those who find joy in their own work. Find mentors and peers challenge you to face your fear.
  4. We should not only lead in the workplace, but also in our communities and our schools. I know that not everyone is able to volunteer. I would have liked to have heard more from her on the subject. If you can’t lead in your workplace, lead in your community and lead in your schools. We need to be thinking about planting the seeds for the future generations!
  5. She doesn’t really discuss how to prepare for a career that lasts a lifetime in the current economic and technological climate. My advice is that you view your learning, growth, struggles and triumphs as a part of your perennial act.
  6. She does talk about assuming power. But remember that interminable power lies in your hands! Invest in your career by pursuing the right knowledge, skills that hone your talent. Don’t wait to find a mentor, hire a coach!

Here is to your distinguished career!

What were your opinions of Lean In? Do you agree with my review?

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