Friday, March 22, 2013

Lean In

This week, I left my family to travel to London on business, carrying my brand spanking new copy of Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In, feeling like a walking cliche. Normally, I'm not one to go for the "I am woman hear me roar, and let me teach you how to roar too" style books. However, I got sucked in by the hype, the reviews and frankly by the fact that we are both women in business who seem to have had some of the same challenges. Also, I tried to stick to my rule of not judging or dismissing something before I actually give it an honest chance.

I'm glad I did. I'm not going to lie, there's some of the "we are women, we need to support each other" kumbaya stuff. Call me cynical but I have a tendency to gloss over that. However, there were some very compelling points made by Sandberg that I could not ignore or be cynical about, largely because there were many times that reading this book felt like holding up a mirror to my own career/life and experiences.

Sandberg, by all accounts has had an amazing and enviable career: chief of staff for the US Treasury Department, Google, now COO of Facebook. No one, man or woman, has that kind of career success without being smart, working hard and having a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Her criticisms, frustrations, challenges to the status quo shine bright spot lights on gender inequity in the workplace, home and the world stage at large. She manages to not sound too preachy or folksy. I confess to some eye-rolling moments on the commentary about marriage having to be an equal partnership. I don't disagree but, for me, the most compelling points were geared around gender based behaviours and gender bias that serve to disadvantage women in the workplace. This is not just philosophy or pontificating, these are clear and consistent behaviours that are being supported by data. I've been guilty of many of them and a victim to others at one time or another: not keeping my hand up (or raising it at all), my terrible negotiation skills, holding back due to fear, not thinking myself qualified for jobs because I didn't meet 100% of the criteria in the description. Sandberg then punctuates these with anecdotes of her own experiences and those of others she knows or who set an example for her.

To accompany the book, Sandberg also co-founded an online community organization called Lean In to provide a place for women to get educational tools and support each other in learning how to lean in (as opposed to lean back from) their careers, their marriages and their lives generally. I'm kind of poking around it as I think I may be ready for some leaning in to a community with shared purpose.  Although, what has been truly motivating and somewhat of an "aha" moment for me (although maybe it's fairly obvious, sometimes that's how these things work), is the notion that every women CAN have it all. However, it's our responsibility to ourselves to determine what "all" means and not try to conform to what society, media, anyone who isn't you, defines as "all". 

I do have it all.  Most of the time. I can't give 100% to my career because if I do that, I don't have anything to give to my family. I also know that I can't give 100% to my family because that means there is nothing left for anything else. That's not what all is to me. It's some other combination where the percentages shift around a bit. Sometimes it's hard. Most of the time it's just messy but that's my all and I'm good with it. That's where I lean in.