Sheryl Sandberg taps into her rich bounty of experience, skills and talent, in her masterpiece, aptly titled, Lean In. How rich is her bounty, you ask? Well, she is the chief operating officer (C.O.O.) at Facebook. Prior to that, she was the vice president of Global Online Sales and Operating at Google and also served as the chief of staff at the United States Treasury Department. This is just but a drop in the ocean, of her vast experience. She has a B.A. in economics from Harvard University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. It is from this ocean of knowledge and experience that she writes this book.
Sheryl Sandberg chronicles her career journey, pointing out what she has come to face and how she has surmounted many of those hurdles. One thing stands out, gender inequality in the workplace, in the United States, is not a myth. It is a reality.
From the data she collected in her book, and at the time of publication, for every dollar a white man earns in the United States, white women earn 78 cents, African-American women earn 64.5 cents, and Latina women earn just 54 cents.
Of the Fortune 500 companies, only six have a black CEO and only one is a woman. About 70% of corporate board seats are held by white men, and 30% of Fortune 250 companies don’t have a single black board member. Only two publicly traded companies are chaired by a black woman.
These figures matter because there is a direct correlation between board diversity and diversity in executive ranks.
In this book, Sheryl points out the subtle yet potent obstacles that women, of all races, in corporate America have to overcome. She tells of a story where she went to pitch to a client, in the company of men and to her shock, there was no bathroom for women. Reason? No woman had ever been that high up the ladder that they needed to create a restroom for women!
Sheryl is honest and genuine in this book. She recalls times where she stifled the voice in her so that she can ‘fit in’. Whereas she has overcome this voice and risen to the highest ranks, a lot of women haven’t. A lot of women get a raw deal, not because they aren’t qualified or talented, but simply because they are women. A lot of women still feel the pressure to conform rather than to stand out. To tone down, and preferably to zip it, rather than stand up and speak up. A lot of women still have to choose whether to be mothers or career woman. Societal stereotype almost seems to suggest, rather strongly, to women, that it’s an either/or situation. That she can’t have both.
It is this primordial and anachronistic thinking, perpetrated by a majorly patriarchal society, that Sheryl, and all the other men and women who have contributed to this book, seek to reverse.
But how? That’s the question to be answered.
Well, one of the ways put forth in this book, is that we, men and women alike, must be aware of the gender inequalities. We must remove the blindfold and look at the issue, square in the face. In her words;
“We cannot change what we are unaware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”
Men must support women in this. Husbands must support their wives by sharing responsibilities in the home. It shouldn’t be assumed that only the woman can drop the kids off at school, change their diapers, wake up to attend to them in the middle of the night and attend school meetings. She gives an example of her husband, who helps with their kids. There’s no one-fit-all formula to sharing the responsibilities of parenthood. However, no one partner must feel that they are doing more than the other.
She calls for women to lean in! She calls for women to have the fortitude to sit at the table! She calls for men to have the good sense and mettle to support women in places of work and at home. She calls on women to awaken their inner leader. To speak up! To negotiate, for in the words of Kim Keating;
“At home or at work, learning how to negotiate can mean the difference between accepting what comes your way and getting what you want out of life.”
Sheryl also suffers no fools when she points out that as she strives to reduce the gap of gender inequality, at times, the biggest stumbling block, are the women themselves! That at times, women are their own worst enemy. She calls on women to support each other.
Gender inequality in the workplace should be something we should all be concerned about. We need to have more of these conversations. If we truly want the world to be a better place we cannot afford not to tap into the tapestry of 50% of the population. The world will only be a better place to live in, if both men and women, see each other as partners in a common cause and not as enemies on opposite sides. The former heralds progress, the latter is a zero-sum gum.
Grab your copy of Lean In. Let’s keep talking about this. In the words of Sheryl Sandberg;
“Talking can transform minds, which can transform behaviour, which can transform institutions.”
To Sheryl Sandberg, and everyone who contributed to this timeless book, thank you for sharing your stories with us!
A review by Aura Billy Osogo.