Author urges women and men to ‘Lean In’

LEAN IN: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. By Sheryl Sandberg. Knopf. 228 pages. $24.95.

There is reason to be optimistic when reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. “Lean In” is both refreshing and encouraging.

Rather than tossing out pithy one-liners, she uses a combination of well-documented research and her own experience to show why things are the way they are and, more importantly, how to change them.

For women and men in the workplace, some of the moments and situations she describes will ring true — sometimes uncomfortably so. Some of the information in Sandberg’s book falls under the heading of questions you were afraid to ask.

For instance, if you’ve ever wondered about what a mentor is supposed to do or how to get one, Sandberg explains this in almost painfully clear detail, including why you should not ask someone you’ve just met to be your mentor. And she lays out the difference between a sponsor and a mentor, which should help anyone pursuing either type of professional networking relationship.

Now, it’s not all roses and it’s not all easy, and Sandberg doesn’t pretend that it is. “Do not wait for power to be offered,” she said. Many working women will wait ... endlessly. And that’s part of the problem. Taking that power is a difficult and complex step, and there’s no one solution that she gives, but rather a series of examples, both successes and failures.

The advice to bring your whole self to work is something that many women would find both liberating and terrifying. But within the context of having a well-rounded life (not a perfect life, but a well-rounded one), it makes sense.

And she acknowledges that the struggles for equality and equity are different here than they are overseas.

It would be easy to take pot shots at Sandberg as she talks about having in-home help and being home for dinner with her children, except she anticipates that and acknowledges it.

She is not speaking just to the women who have “made it” or to the women at the Fortune 500 companies, or even just to women. And she makes valid points about the importance of personal time — for everyone.

One single woman pointed out to her that going to a social function was just as important for her personal life as going to a child’s play or soccer game was for her married co-workers, “because going to a party is the only way I might actually meet someone and start a family so I can have a soccer game to go to one day!”

She calls for establishing true 50-50 relationships at home and at work, and both places would be better for taking her advice.

As she says, “True equality will be achieved only when we all fight the stereotypes that hold us back. Feeling threatened by others’ choices pulls us all down. Instead, we should funnel our energy into breaking this cycle.”

If we can do that, then Sandberg’s social movement truly will be a success.

Reviewer Melanie Balog is a columnist and outreach editor at The Post and Courier.