We All Need to Lean In

lean-in-lawyers

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is not just a great read for women. It’s a must read for everyone.

My girlfriend read it a month or so ago. Annoyingly, lending on the Kindle book is disabled, so I bought my own copy about ten days ago. I literally couldn’t put it down. Although the main thrust of the book is women and equality in the home and workplace, the message goes beyond that. Sure, there are flaws in her argument, and they are well documented on the internet. But I believe the book still has at least two valuable lessons for anyone.

Question Your Biases

In Lean In Sandberg discusses inherent biases that society has sculpted about women, and especially women in the workforce. For example, one study showed that when given two resumes, one with a male name and one with a female name, the majority of individuals classified the male resume as more qualified. In many environments, when a woman speaks up, takes risks, or acts aggressive at work, she is more likely to be held back than a man who acts similarly. Undoubtedly we have all seen a woman that is a great attorney referred to as “bitchy” or shunned by peers.

During college I was on the mock trial team, because that’s what the cool kids did. Our team captain one year was very good at cross examination. She elicited the necessary information, kept her questions short, and rarely got tripped up by a slippery witness. Yet time and again, she lost points for being “too aggressive” on cross. During the comments, she was regularly labeled a “born prosecutor.” We surmised that “born prosecutor” was code for “bitchy,” which nobody could say (and I can’t guarantee). Regardless, she always ended up with lower scores than the male attorneys who all had a similar style (due to similar training).

These examples are everywhere. Reading Sandberg’s book will point a lot of them out and, more importantly, help you identify your own biases. The book made me think about some of the female attorneys I don’t enjoy working with. I questioned whether I don’t like them because they are strong-willed and assertive. Would that same behavior by a man yield a different reaction?

These are the questions I ask myself after reading the book. And they are questions I believe we all need to ask ourselves regularly. Nobody is immune from biases, but we can correct for them. Even Sandberg identifies her weaknesses. She tells a story of a boss she really did not get along with. Afterwards, she realized that had her boss been a man, Sandberg would not have judged her superior’s behaviors as harshly.

You Can Work if You Want To

My favorite take-away from the book is Sandberg’s argument that societal gender roles affect men as well as women. Men often shy away from taking time off to care for children, fearing possible ramifications at work. Similarly, men feel more pressured to have a successful career so that their spouse can have the option of staying home with the children. Men who decide to leave the workplace to raise their children full time are often ostracized from single mother groups, according to Sandberg. And worse, they have a hard time relating to male peers.

This is because, as a society, we expect women to be the primary caretaker in the home. By setting that standard, we are discouraging women from making the most of their careers. In part because they believe they have to choose between their career and their family.

Instead of forcing anyone to choose, partners should be working together to find a natural fit. We should not assume that a woman is a better caretaker and a man a better bread winner. Sandberg argues that in our relationships we should keep the household responsibilities evenly shared to the greatest extent possible. I agree. And, more importantly, employers need to make opportunities for paid or unpaid leave available to men and women equally.

It is a long road to equality between the genders, and we all need to do our part to usher society down that road.

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