5 Ways to Lean In - Lessons from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

12 June 2016

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As of late, i have been finding myself reading more and more autobiographies, more specifically, books written by powerful women. From #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso to Wildflower by Drew Barrymore. Latest edition to this list? Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg - a book every women (aspiring to have a kick-ass career or not) should read.
There is something intriguing about autobiographies and learning about life through someone else's unique experiences. Maybe its a sign of growing up and having less desire to live in a fantasy/non-fiction world, or maybe i'm just interested by people's life experiences as it's the closest way of experiencing something I otherwise would never have.

In Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg talks about women in the work place, citing her own experiences and that of her colleagues (think Marissa Mayer), how to deal with increasing personal success in the work place, the prejudice that comes with it and how we can all collectively go about aspiring for equality in the working world.

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I never thought the male and female inequality was extremely apparent. I knew it existed, but, I have never been explicitly denied something because I was female. I'm fortunate enough to have never been put into such an obviously unequal situation. However, listening to Lean In, I realise prejudice still exist, just in more subtle but equally detrimental forms.

Being someone who has "girly" interest and I'm hardly ever taken seriously as an Engineering student (friends who study engineering and share my interest for fashion can attest to this). My classmates who are less interested in "girly things" were always taken more seriously, seen as smarter/better academically, and do not get the same judgement I do. I never thought much about it, I just thought it was probably something wrong with me as a person. Over the last few years in university, I've received countless of snide comments and had to deal with the way people have labelled me because of my more feminine hobbies and interests.
Lean In definitely shed light on certain things I otherwise would not have noticed.

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After I got the audiobook on audible, I realised there was a graduate's edition - probably more suitable if you're graduating, or have just started working. Regardless, I throughly enjoyed listening to Lean In. I just wish i had the physical book so I could highlight and annotate, instead of typing on my phone.

Anyway, Lean In, got me thinking so much more about how i've been viewing my career options, so here are 5 lessons I beleive we all can learn from facebook's successful COO!


This is one MAJOR lesson from the book.
"Sit at the table" was a recurring statement throughout the book. Sitting at the table means stepping up to the plate and owning your worth.
Sandberg quotes studies that have shown women tend to doubt themselves (more so than men) when given an opportunity, and rarely agree to take up additional responsibilities immediately. It is also less common for women to praise themselves highlight their achievements, ask for a deserving raise, or volunteer themselves for a job they have the skills for.

Generally, women often put themselves down, down play their achievements (some even just NOT highlight it), and question their own abilities, more so than men.

So instead, of thinking about our flaws, and worrying if we're good enough, Sandberg suggests we should ask ourselves what would we do if you weren't afraid.

Basically, "Sit at the table" took me back to a famous quote from a movie my little self loved called A Cinderella Story.
"Do not let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."

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In her book, Sheryl Sandberg mentioned the difference when it comes to how people judge a successful male and a successful female with the exact same accomplishments. Google: Heidi Howard Case for more details.

"As a man gets more successful, he is better liked by men and women, and as a women gets more successful, she is less liked by men and women." This statement coupled with the Heidi Howard case study pretty much summarised how people typically view an ambitious woman.
This negative association is why, as females, we feel that in order to remain liked, we have to be "not a threat" and to not be seen as a corporate-ladder-climbing-bitch (to put it crudely). Our self doubt (in the case of point 1) becomes self-defence. Self doubt becomes a shield. We put ourselves down so we remained liked, so that we can be "the nice girl".

When I was younger, I use to be pretty straight forward and clear about what I wanted. Basically male counterparts who i've worked with labelled me as "A little bitchy" but "Got work done". Bitchy. Scary. Demanding. Curt. Angsty. "Guys would be afraid to date you", words i've heard all too often because i'm ambitious, straight-forward, or i'm strict when it comes to getting things done. I'm dead sure if I was a male, i'd be seen as determined, confident, efficient, etc. But alas, Im not.

After entering university, I toned down. Tried my hardest to stop being as straight forward and demanding, played (or tried at least) the typical nice girl card to fit in one too many times despite sometimes feeling sick to the stomach for having to do so. What for? Because it made me more well liked (Seriously though, it did much to my dismay). More accepted, more like a stereotypical female.

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What I learned from this book is that in order to lean in, it is important we keep that self doubt in check, stop dumbing ourselves down as women just so men would like us.
We should never shortchange ourselves especially when opportunities arise in terms of our career. Take a step out and look at our accomplishments objectively, look at ourselves without the tinted eyes of gender.

Yes, it is important that we are liked. But we can't be liked by everyone. We shouldn't have to be less of who we are just so that our bosses or colleagues would like us.

Another side point, is that it is important NOT to expect women bosses to like you JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE a women. Sandberg mentions, often, as women, we expect greater niceness from other women, and have double standards when it comes to senior women and men. That should not be the case. We can't expect to reduce inequality and at the same time expected to be treated better just because of our gender.

This message of acceptance and equality in the work place clearly resounds throughout the book, and is by far my favourite topic in the book!

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It is 2016. The era for a "Queen Bee" is long gone. There is no such thing as only 1 woman doing well. We can all do well together.
Don't hate on other women because of their choices.
The classic case of working mum vs. non-working mum. In the book, Sheryl Sandberg talks about how women from one side bash the other way too often, because it is how they justify their choices. A working mum and a stay-home mum remind each other of what each one of them is giving up because of the choices they made.

I grew up with 2 working parents. My cousins had parents who were both working full-time as well. My grandparents were too working full time when they were parents. I never for once doubted the fact that i'd be a working mum. That was just the convention for me.

I vaguely, being 14 or 15, and having a discussion with my friends about working full-time whilst raising kids, and that was the first time I experienced the hate/judgement.
One of my friends commented on how mothers should be with their kids full-time when they are younger to increase the mother child bond or to ensure they wouldn't grow up "bad". Whatever bad meant. In Lean In, Sandberg said based on facts and statistics, working full-time does NOT diminish the mother daughter bond.
In fact, as a daughter of a working mum, i'd say my bond with my mum is pretty solid.

The book talks about how the fight between women should not be happening. If one feels the desire to raise her kids, and to nurture them, she should not be judged for her actions. Similarly, if one chooses to work full-time, she too shouldn't be judged or condemned because of her choices. There is no one right way to raise kids, and the more women go against one another, the more we perpetuate prejudice, & this is just one scenario.

Instead of tearing each other down, we should offer other women a helping hand. Highlight their achievements and their value. Encourage different choices, and give younger girls more options in their career choices, their roles in the family, etc. The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves.

"There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women" - Madeleine Albright

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Sheryl Sandberg wrote:
'Whether you get married, and who?' is the single most important decision an aspiring career women has to make.
Having a partner that will support your career decisions and step in to take care and do his/her part for the family is extremely important.
She cites the balance she and her husband has struck when it comes to taking care of their kids.

Basically, as more women sit at the table in the workforce, men have to sit at the kitchen table. Women should encourage men to take more responsibilities at home, and see parenting and an equal contribution between both parties. Finding a partner, male or female, that embraces and supports you going for your career, and willing to take up half the responsibilities at home, or basically "cover for you" when you aren't around is extremely important.

I'm not getting a life partner anytime soon, but I'm sure i've got to keep this in mind for when the time comes, for who I choose to date, or for the conversations that I have to have when with whoever I end up wanting to marry.

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You cant just put your head down and ignore the situation. Sandberg said, in the past, she would not be so forthcoming when speaking about feminism and prejudice in the work place (or while she was studying at Harvard), despite having encountered so many situations herself.

She said she thought just by ignoring it, and doing her work well she'd prove those critics and stereotypes wrong.
I have always thought like that.
Instead of highlighting why everyone should support feminism, most of the time, I force myself to halt my statements or just not comment in situations because I didn't want to appear "unlikable" "scary" "angry" or "bitchy" even though I'm feeling NONE of those negative emotions. As a person, I just get excited and passionate about certain subjects (equality and debunking stereotypical insinuations for example) easily, and it sucks that I can't freely express myself in these situations.

By staying quiet or by not calling out on the prejudice, we're actually feeding into the stereotypes and allowing them to propagate.
"You can't please everyone, you can't be liked by everyone. If you do, you're not making a change." - Sheryl Sandberg

I hope when I'm put in or witnessing situations of female stereotype - or any stereotypes - I have the gut to speak up, and point out these errors, even if it means coming across "fierce".

Feminism, equality for the sexes, whatever it is you want to call it, I believe we should all be given opportunities in all arenas equally, regardless of how we look on the outside. It's sad that our world is so visual, and so many of us fall prey to stereotypes, but here's changing the world one step at the time, and i'm starting with the woman in the mirror.

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