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Andrea Newell headshot

Lean In: 3p Readers Weigh In On Themes from Sheryl Sandberg's Book

By Andrea Newell

After a year, we asked you, our readers, how themes in Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" have affected you and what you thought about them. Here are your responses, and thanks for being part of the conversation.

The first part of the book talks a lot about how women should get by in a man’s world. “Should women play by the rules others created?…I understand the paradox of advising women to to change the world by adhering to biased rules and expectations.” Do women still have to get by in a man’s world, or are things changing? If so, how? If not, why not?

A woman (and a man) should always understand the rules and recognize that it really is a man’s world. Both genders, especially women, should challenge the expectations, rules and standards we all live by - even if they are small things - they will add up. - Jessica Robinson

It all rolls back to education. If we give girls encouragement, incentives and reasons to want to take the math, science, management and leadership courses, they will use this knowledge to assume leadership positions. - Sarah 

I respect Sheryl Sandberg's leadership for adding her voice to a global chorus challenging women to lead in enterprise, corporations, community and family. I also celebrate the diversity of women’s wit and experience recorded over time, given that our expression of power and leadership isn't a single point of view but rather a resplendent range. This, in itself, is a break from the hegemony of male power.
Women’s exercise of leadership is not compatible with domination models, though time has tempered the look-and-feel of the millennia-old system. In other words, a new interface doesn’t change the underlying structure that we’ve historically adapted to as women. Our challenge is to write, practice and coach our unique form of leadership and power with all the intelligences that we’ve honed over centuries of adaptation and innovation.
That old chestnut, "Necessity is the mother of invention and success has many fathers,” applies. We start businesses in record numbers, we sustain systems and families and our capacity for creating and therefore adapting is the very stuff-of-life. We are a most powerful source. Lean in, step up, be confident and courageous—be the woman to lead. Its our domain. Its our hearth. Own it. - Elizabeth C. Page
“Women are reluctant to apply for promotions even when deserved, often believing good job performance will naturally lead to rewards.” Why is this bad? And why doesn’t it work?

Unless there is a formal promotion review process, promotions just don’t happen -- they are networked, lobbied, subtly and not so subtly negotiated.Sarah 

Sandberg talks about the difficulty for women to find and cultivate mentors and sponsors, but how important they are to career growth. “We need to stop telling women, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel.’ Instead we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.’” Is that true?

Solar is my industry and there aren't many women in the top ranks so it's difficult to find role models especially if, like me, you were drawn to the more technical sides of the industry (design, engineering, and business operations). Social scientists examining this topic of women's career achievements over the last few decades have found that women sometimes exclude other women from opportunities in order to gain a competitive edge for themselves. I have definitely experienced this and know others who have as well. It's part of why I feel like the "Lean In" debate is only focusing a subset of the relevant issues women face in business. - Pamela Cargill

It’s not as simple as excelling leads to mentorship.  Everyone excels in their own way; some far more than others. The key is to create formal mechanisms within the employer for mentorship as well as create external opportunities for mentor-protégé mentorship. In fact, I started one of the first online mentoring organizations for girls in Africa from 1999 to 2005.  The world’s young women truly need a mentor-protégé matching platform. Sarah 

Famously, Sandberg has said that when it comes to work/life balance, women “leave before they leave” and they should lean in instead. Has this advice helped women in the past year? Are more women leaning in and are workplaces letting them?

Sheryl’s advice to lean in and not “leave before you leave” has helped women, in particular me, in the past year. I read Lean In when I was 24, just out of a long-term relationship, and looking to change jobs. To be honest, when I was younger I made a lot of choices that could be considered “leaving.” However, I’ve made a few that weren’t and those few have changed my life forever. I studied abroad, moved to San Francisco, and I made the decision to start a company. I did all of these things with the intention of putting my needs and happiness first and not worrying about if they would affect my career when, and if, I decide to marry or have children. Her advice has taught me that going for it now is much more rewarding than setting yourself back for something not on the horizon yet. - Kacie Gonzalez

I enjoyed Lean In all around, but the part that really clicked for me was her advice on “think about what you would do if you weren’t scared – and then go do it.” Acknowledging that fear was holding me back and stopping me from launching a new project that I was really excited (and terrified) about has helped me tremendously in overcoming that fear and moving forward. Courage is not the lack of fear, but the ability to do things in spite of fear. But first, just like alcoholism, you need to recognize there’s a problem, and that fear is what’s holding you back.

There are many things that can be scary even in terms of career moves, especially when trying to balance career with family, financial stability, personal life, etc. And yet many of us are much more resilient than we think, and being ready to fail is one of the hallmarks of leadership. - Emilie Mazzacurati

I hate to give these examples as they are Facebook-specific but they happened to me as a direct result of feeling inspired to want to lean in after reading Sheryl’s book. Even before her book, I was and remain a huge fan of Sheryl’s vision and leadership and am hugely appreciative of her introductions to people at Facebook to present my CV and ideas. 

During my second interview for a position, the HR recruiter asked me when I would be available for the position.  I replied that I was due to deliver a baby but I would be available within several days after delivering. She said the position needed to be filled far before the due date I provided to which I replied that I was available with the exception of a brief maternity leave.  I didn’t get the job and promises of following-up with me on future positions have not happened.

Undaunted, I decided to more formally articulate my ideas for Facebook in the form of a simple website.  I heard from several senior people at Facebook that many of the ideas were good ones and one person told me I would be introduced to the creative team that did the 10th anniversary videos, but my follow-up met with silence.

Certainly two examples of trying to lean in without success but just because I wasn’t successful doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to try to lean in – with purpose, passion, and a positive attitude that not all attempts at leaning in will be rewarded.  I think that’s important for all of us to remember. Sarah 

Andrea Newell headshot

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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