Conclusion: Sheryl Sandberg’s insights in _Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013)_

In my last blog posting, I reviewed and critiqued Sheryl Sandberg’s insightful and sensible arguments on women’s need for greater equality (at work and at home), as she argues in Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead  (New York: Knopf, 2013). Today, I’m concluding that assessment.

On finding a truly equal partner:

Establishing that women need to work their way to “sit at the [boardroom] table, Sandberg sensibly advocates that women need to find partners who will meet them half-way with childrearing and homemaking. Her most practical comment is that women need to become less perfectionist in raising kids and keeping house:  treat your husband as an equally capable partner and he’ll become one. If you let him learn how to diaper the baby himself, instead of insisting that there is a “right [i.e. perfect] way” to do it, he’ll learn just fine. And letting children be comforted by their fathers, even though men don’t lactate, enables children to grow up, taking comfort and consolation from their fathers, too.

Finally, no one can have/do it all:

Sandberg concludes by debunking the anti-feminist myth that women “can do it all,” or “have it all,” when in fact “done is better than perfect.” She cites Mary Curtis in The Washington Post as saying that success means that “women and men [must] drop the guilt-trip . . . . The secret is there is no secret – just doing the best you can with what you’ve got” (139).

Gender inequality certainly does persist in leadership and for the reasons that Sandberg mentions—women not sitting at the table; not working out equal relationships with their partners; and women thinking that they can and should “have it all,” when no one does or can.

But Sandberg says that it makes no sense that she and her college friends distanced themselves from the Steinems, Friedans and other, early leaders of the women’s movement. When Sandberg’s generation “lowered its voices, thinking the battle was over, they lost ground and hurt themselves.” She cites a 2009 poll that only 24% of women in the US today consider themselves feminists. But when offered a specific definition of the term, that “a feminist is someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes,” the percentage rises to 65%. That statistic still seems very low to me, but, as Sandberg says, at least it’s moving up.

Throughout Lean In, Sandberg is often charmingly funny and personable, sharing her own decisions, mistakes and the ongoing difficulties of making good choices for herself, her career and her family. What she says is often common sense, but men and women do  need to hear it, because evidence shows us that commons sense about gender is not sufficiently at work in 21st century culture.

Women can have a “will to lead,” and Sandberg advocates supporting and “cheering on” women who want to sit at the boardroom table, and to “lean in” on their careers. Better performance of women in companies and organizations and better involvement of men at home will bring greater equality and happiness for all—including those who choose traditional gender roles.

Coming from the crucible of writing many commencement-style speeches to graduates of privileged American women’s colleges, and from a highly influential TEDTalk that she delivered online in 2010 (that went “viral”), Sandberg’s book shows that she also practices what she preaches. For instance, as I indicated earlier, her book is not obsessively of her own making, but is a team-authored, collective effort of several women, and some men, as well. And she doesn’t expect the reader to agree with every choice that she makes. Yet her argument is emboldening and confidence-inspiring.  She concludes: “There isn’t genuine choice until women have supportive employers, colleagues and partners. And until men are respected for contributing equally in the home, because only then can both sexes achieve their full potential.”

So why does it all matter?

A next step for the reader is to reflect on the global nature and need of women’s empowerment. And we should ask ourselves, how we can shake up the status quo of gender inequality? Where do you find it in your work environment? To women: how will you share more traditional domestic work with the men in your life? To men: how willing are you to parent your children? How will women like me “lean in” to leadership in career or freelance life, here in North America? And how will you fight for women’s rights in countries where women have not yet ever “sat at the table,” found truly equal partners or made peace with the reality that no one can “have it all”?

Please feel welcome to post your thoughts on my site. I’d be delighted to hear from you.


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