Lean In is Sheryl Sandberg’s view on women and society. She focuses on career, leadership and gender issues.
There are good reflections and some great tips for women. But there is a also complete disregard of basic psychology, human nature and biology driving the behaviors she criticizes. And I personally disagree with several of her conclusions.
- Lean In Summary
- Lean In Criticism
- Lean In Audio-Summary
- Lean In Review
- Progress has slowed for women and it’s even getting worse
- Women are naturally less confident and ambitious and should strive for more
- Society and men should accept that it’s also men’s duties to care for children
- Women should stick together because that’s more power
Lean In Summary
There is much ideology in Lean In which I will not address in this summary. Read the Lean In criticism section for more on it.
Double Standard: Ambitious Women Are Disliked
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In often comes back to this central tenet of the book: society holds a double standard fr men and women.
She says that men are expected to be aggressive and ambitious and people don’t usually hold it against them.
But when it’s a woman, things change. And both men and women tend to dislike an overly ambitious woman.
Successful women are also seen with suspicion, and Sheryl Sandberg cites the experiment of similar CVs of a successful man and woman. But while the man’s success was appealing, the woman’s success was worrisome.
That much is true indeed, and it’s one of the central points of my article the real reason why Hillary Clinton lost.
Women Should Assert More
A good chunk of the book is good psychology on the differences between men and women.
Sheryl Sandberg says that women tend to have less self-esteem and react differently than men to win and losses.
In victory men are more likely to think they ave done while women look for more external causes and “circumstances”. In loss, women tend to shoulder the full blame and to think that they are not good enough while men look at external circumstances and at scapegoats.
The author also says that women have a higher degree of impostor syndrome, such as the feeling of not being good enough for the role they have.
however, I didn’t like the idea behind Lean In, which seems to be that women should become more like men.
It’s not really that smart to look for scapegoats and never take the blame after all -read: how to develop a growth mindset-.
I like more the approach of The Laws of Human Nature, recommending that men and women become aware of their pros and cons by merging the two different genders’ qualities into one.
Don’t Let Family Planning Stop You
The author says that too many women allow family planning to curtail their potential and possibilities, often becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, a woman thinking of having a baby might not apply for higher positions, turn down important projets or outright refuse promotions.
What happens though is that having a baby often takes longer than most expect and in the meanwhile she is not growing -not herself and neither her career-.
When she eventually wants to go back to work, she should do so in a position that does not challenge her, which makes her less willing to go back at all.
Instead, Sheryl Salzberg proposes that before she is actually pregnant and must -or want- to go on maternity leave, she keeps growing and going fro all the high visibility and stretch positions that she can.
I like this approach.
Lean In Criticism
There is much I disagree with Sheryl Sandberg as it comes across in Lean In.
let’s go in order:
Are Ambitious Women Disliked.. Or Masculine Women?
Sheryl Sandberg says that ambitious women are disliked.
Yet, I gotta wonder if it’s ambitious women who are disliked or if it’s simple people who present trait that are generally associated to the opposite gender.
In my article how to walk sexy for men I share a video of how an extreme feminine walk looks like.
The reaction of men to that walk is one of tremendous disgust:
And that’s my point: very feminine men are also disliked.
Now this might not be “fair”, and albeit I’m not a big fan of “fair talk”, in this case I add my voice to the bandwagon: it’s not fair and not cool.
Yet, in my opinion, we should consider that it’s not “ambitious” women who are disliked, but it’s more a general tendency towards people who exhibit cross gender traits.
Are Men & Women Equal in Child Rearing?
Lean In by Sheryl Saldberg notes that women are more likely to take work leaves when a baby is born.
Does anyone find that strange?
She also states that society should accept that it’s OK for men to do the child-rearing as well while the woman pursues her career.
And that’s fair enough.
But I think this idea of “forced equality” does not take into account that mothers are important than fathers for children.
Part of is culture, definitely, as children see their friends that are closer to their mothers. Yet, culture don’t come from nowhere. Cultures often stem from biology and inborn tendencies as well.
Women have historically taken care of children because, obviously, they deliver them and because, later, they suckle them.
That’s one of the reasons why the maternal bond is usually stronger than the paternal bond. Saying or implying the two parents are the same is a failure of understanding basic developmental psychology.
Mothers can both do more good for children or, when the parenting is off, also more damage (a good book as an example for the latter is “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?“).
To be clear: this is not to say that women must keep taking care of the children. I’m pretty sure children can turn out awesome even with just their fathers.
But it says, again, that Sheryl Salzberg’s Lean In fails to analyze basic truths of why there is a strong tendency for women to take care of children and for men to take care of the providing.
Failure in Basic Human Nature & Psychology
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In questions (complains?) about the current gender split in top job positions, about double standards and about, basically, “how things are”.
Yet the answers always seem to be a big “it’s unfair”.
But it never questions whether or not there deep reasons behind the current state of affairs.
It never considers different biology, psychology and even biology.
It does not consider that there are biological reasons why men are more driven.
Likely, it’s because men need to amass more resources for competing in the sexual marketplace and for securing a woman. Women don’t have nearly as much a need.
Male and female different drives and needs are often deep-rooted and they won’t change because Sheryl Salzerbg wiggles a judgmental finger with her recurrent “women/men should” and “society should”.
For the sake of clarity: this is not to say that things should stay the same. Cultures change and, with time, our drives and nature changes as well -the latter not within our current lifespan though-.
But Sheryl Salzerbg never addresses the underlying principles: she stops at the top layer. And in that, in my opinion, fails to deliver meaningful insights and information.
True Equality is 50/50… Not.
Lean In says that a sign of true equality will only happen when businesses ownership and business executive positions will be equally split between men and women.
To me, that’s not a sign of equality in any way.
Equality is equality for opportunities, and then let the final “split” be decided by market forces and, even more importantly, by personal preferences.
And not, like the author say, by “committing to change the leadership ratio”, which is deeply un-meritocratic.
Equality by equality of ratios indeed is not equality, not meritocracy and not something a healthy society must strive for.
Since it’s like that more women want to stay close to their children as compared to men and and since more men are on average more hungry for power and upward social mobility, it’s likely that the split might not be 50/50.
But it doesn’t have to be 50/50 to live in a society that provides equality of opportunity.
Again, this is another fundamental failure of understanding of basic human nature.
Men Less Successful Than Women is An “Ego Thing”?
Sheryl Saldberg states that men fearing more successful female partners do so out of an “ego issue”
Part of it is ego indeed but, again, the author fails to question the reasons why that is hte case.
Since all men have it, in my opinion, it’s because evolution shaped men that way. It’s possible to speculate that men don’t want more successful women because, deep down, they know that women would not respect them. It’s a well known fact indeed that women want men who are “more” than they are (female hypergamy).
And men, righteously so, are worried of partners who are “more” than they are.
Similarly, Sheryl Saldberg encourages women to marry men who are more “equals”, again failing to realize that women really pine after men who are better than they are.
Tribalist and Sectarian Mindset
I quote straight from the Lean In book:
We need to look out for one another, work together and act more like a coalition.Quote from Lean In
As individuals we have relatively low levels of power. Working together we are 50% of the world population and therefore have real power.
We should strive to resolve our differences quickly, and when we disagree, stay focused on our shared goalsSheryl Salzberg
There is a special place in hell for women who don’t hep other womenLean In, quoting Madeleine Albright
There is much more talk of coalitions and “common fight”, including a story where the author expected an ally in another woman but felt betrayed when her colleague was hostile.
Now, being hostile sucks. But did she expect an ally just becuase it was another woman?
I really dislike this tribal mentality of “fighting together?”.
Tribalism almost always indirectly implies an out-group, an enemy to fight.
But fighting against whom?
No, we don’t need more tribes, sects and barriers, we need more bridges and more empathy for fellow humans, not for humans who are the same colour, have the same sexual organs.
I am a guy, so I realize that it’s easy to think I am biased.
Yet I have the exact same criticism for male authors and for men who exhort to do the same with other men, like in:
Ultimately, the author does include also men, but it feels like it’s a perfunctory olive branch. And of course, only for men who espouse her worldview.
Women Should be More Like Men?
In the end, Sheryl’s receipt for a “better world” is for men to be more like women and for women to be more like men.
I believe there is great power in acquiring cross-gender qualities and traits, but I believe it’s best achieved while sticking mostly to one’s own gender.
Why for example should women become men with a skirt when they can leverage their own strengths to achieve success, maybe even opening their own business instead of bending backwards to fit into men’s businesses?
Also consider that women who become too masculine in the way Sheryl seems to recommend lose point in the dating arena, and that’s one more reason why women tend to be less gung-ho than men -also read strong women VS submissive women in dating-.
And of course Sheryl Salzberg never warns women of the risks that being less feminine carries in the sexual marketplace.
Real Life Applications
There are a lot of fantastic takeaways here for women who seek a successful career.
Negotiate With “We”
Since both men and women don’t really like very assertive women, it’s a good idea for women to negotiate from a “we” perspective rather than “I”
Pick Fast Growth Companies
It will be challenging, but it will give you so much more opportunities.
For a more complete review read the “Lean In Criticism” paragraph. On top of that, I didn’t like the following:
Shoulding All Over The Place
Lean In is huge on shoulds. What women should do, what men should do, what society should accept. I really don’t like that attitude.
One-Sided Look to Discrimination
there are disadvantages to being a woman, for sure. And this book explroed all of them and the nsome. But there are also advantages, and the fact that Saldberg barely mentions any is not a badge of impartiality.
There is much good in Lean In, including:
Awesome Text for Career Women
It’s a fantastic book for women seeking a successful career, and the author knows a thing or two about a successful career.
Differences Between Men & Women
Lean In is a good text to understand some of the differences between male and female brain.
Good Psychology on “Intra-Gender Warfare”
I liked some of Sheryl Saldberg’s analysis of women’s animosity against women.
She says that many women who make it in a man’s world resent other women and try to push them down.
That was on point.
Lean In Audio-Summary
For people who prefer an audio and video summaries, here is a Lean In video review:
Lean In Review
There is lots of good in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.
There is some good psychology, there are great tips for women seeking a high flying career and I totally recommend driven women to read it.
Yet, for a book that is so popular and so well written and for a woman who is so accomplished I expect more in terms of psychology and sociological understanding.
To me, there is rather appalling lack of understanding of basic principles of human nature.
Sharyl Sadlberg says she’s not a scholar nor a sociologist. It shows. But that’s not an excuse to remain ignorant of the deeper picture.
Finally, same as I do for men exhorting men to “stick together”, I also deeply disliked the sectarian mindset that women should “band together”.