Introduction: Internalizing the Revolution
Although women in the United States and the developed world are better off than they’ve ever been, we’re still a long way from gender equality. Out of 195 independent countries, only 17 are led by women, and women hold only 22% of parliament seats globally. In the United States, despite the fact that there are more women graduating with college degrees than men, only 23% of S&P 500 companies have female CEOs and women only hold 25% of executive officer positions. For women of color, the gap is even worse. The same fight occurs for compensation. As of 2010, women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.
Sandberg has experienced this inequality firsthand. After spending decades working in large corporations, she noticed that each year, fewer and fewer of her colleagues were women. Often, she’s the only woman in the room. She asks, how can women break down the barriers and secure powerful roles?
Many women face sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace. Businesses rarely offer flexibility for childcare or maternity leave, making it difficult to raise a family and have a career. In addition to the external roadblocks, women are hindered by countless internal barriers, too. They often hold themselves back, fearful of being selfish, rude, disruptive, or aggressive, since, from a young age, they are taught to be calm and nurturing, and to play nice with others. If women are able to rid themselves of their internal blockades, they can begin tearing down the external ones.
Sandberg urges her readers to lean in—to be assertive, not passive, and to be ambitious in every pursuit. In order to achieve equality in the workplace, each woman must take her career into her own hands, then stand with and support other women and reignite the revolution.
1. The Leadership Ambition Gap
Sandberg concedes that while her generation had far more educational opportunities than those before her, and despite ambitious, competitive women graduating from college, the world has not evolved as much as she originally predicted when it comes to equality for men and women in the workforce. In fact, she tells us that women are dropping out of the workforce in high numbers partly because they have learned from their own mothers that it is not really possible to achieve a true work-life balance. This, she suggests, is a systemic issue relating to America’s lack of paid maternity leave and other support systems for mothers in corporate life.
As more women choose to leave their careers or go part time, a vicious cycle of employers investing less in them and more in men ensues. But perhaps more disturbing is the major disparity Sandberg cites between men and women who aspire to leadership roles in future careers, despite the fact that girls are “increasingly outperforming boys in the classroom, earning about 57% of the undergraduate and 60% of master’s degrees in the United States.” She argues that while academia rewards compliant “raise-your-hand-and-speak-when-called-on” behaviors, career progression, particularly in senior and leadership roles, depends upon risk-taking and self-promotion. Women are discouraged from exhibiting these traits practically from the time they are born—via messaging from the media and from toy companies, and even from moms, dads, and teachers.
Ultimately, Sandberg argues that it’s essential that we have more portrayals of women as “competent professionals and happy mothers—or happy professionals and competent mothers,” and that women in leadership positions, like herself, encourage other women to aim high.
2. Sit at the Table
Sandberg recalls a meeting of executives in Silicon Valley from a few years back. As is so often the case, the men picked up something to eat from a buffet and sat at the conference room table; the women made up their plates last and took seats at the periphery of the room—even when prompted to sit at the table. The takeaway here is that one’s physical position in a work environment can impact how they feel and how they are perceived. Leaning in at this meeting would have had all equally qualified executives sitting around the table.
The author examines what she believes to be a pervasive behavior of women to “feel like a fraud,” when praised for their accomplishments, rather than accept that they are worthy of recognition they have earned. Stemming from self-doubt, this phenomenon is called the “imposter syndrom...