Anant Jain

Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Book Review

Lean In needs to be a required reading for anyone about to enter the workforce, irrespective of their gender. In this book, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, puts out a blueprint for individual growth for women, and sage advice for men so that we can all work towards the goal of real gender equality, instead of just paying lip service to it. I’m really glad that a book like this exists that I can point my friends to if ever I see them holding their ambitions back.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from the book:

1. It’s a Jungle Gym, not a ladder

Careers are no longer ladders that you have to climb sequentially to get to the top. It’s better to think of them as a “Jungle Gym” with multiple ways to get to your destination. This will let you advance faster while staying calmer. Set both long and short-term goals. Choose jobs that are meaningful for you, as well as have a potential for growth. Have an 18-month plan of where you want to be.

2. Success and Likeability

There are studies that show that successful women are more likely to be perceived with a negative lens, both by their male and female colleagues. This is a tightrope to walk on — as Sheryl says, “when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you have to be nice and feminine just enough to not come across as rude, while arguing for what you want without making it seem like you’re selling yourself too hard.” It’s insane that women in the workforce, who are equal in every sense, have to follow this type of advice to be more likable and thus be able to advance their careers. Why can’t we have a fair, merit-based work environment everywhere already!?

3. Mentors and sponsors

A mentor or a sponsor is someone who watches out for you. It’s best to seek practical, to-the-point advice from someone you admire and are in a unique position to answer those questions for you. It’s generally not a good idea to walk up to someone and just ask them, “Will you be my mentor?” Instead, work on building a real, working relationship with senior women and men you admire at your company. Have pointed asks and a clear way for them to help you out. Interestingly, senior men can play an important role here by being as interested in mentoring and sponsoring up-and-coming young female colleagues — and not just the males!

4. The myth of doing it all

Sheryl has a lot of great advice on how to think about starting a family, and how to balance it with your career ambitions. It ultimately boils down to this: women should never feel any bit of guilt for not being able to stay more than a reasonable number of hours in the office, or for not being as dedicated as the stay-at-home mom. Women are generally quite unfair to themselves — they compare themselves to unreasonable benchmarks when they think of work and home. You cannot, and should not expect to do it all. It’s okay to let go a bit: putting in crazy hours at work is not correlated to getting effective, meaningful work done. On the other end, studies have shown that “children who were cared for exclusively by their mothers did not develop differently than those who were also cared for by others.”

5. Make your partner a real partner

Your relationship should be a tag team of equals. You both will have to support each other all the way — to be successful at work and home. Find someone who’ll be your equal partner in every sense of the word. Men need to make sure they share half, if not more, of the responsibilities at home. All this should be fairly obvious, but unfortunately, it’s still not the norm.

At some level, it annoys me that books like Lean In still need to be written and read — we should’ve already had gender equality across every sphere of life! We still have a long way to go and Lean In does a great job at nudging every reader, male or female, in the correct direction. Go read it if you haven’t already.

This is #40 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.