As women moving through the world, we experience every day something that makes us grit our teeth in rage, or facepalm, or simply weep with frustration. How many times, how many days have we been subject to ridiculous assumptions about our thoughts, our ideas, our very worth. It’s annoying – and I’m done with it.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, had those experiences as well. Her response was to write the book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead in 2013. The book became a best seller and a global phenomenon for a few reasons.
First off it’s well researched and the information is cleanly presented. Everyone I know who has read the book has had at least one moment of powerful recognition with the stories and data. There’s truth in the book.
Second, Sandberg and the book have been criticized for being too white, too privileged and too out of touch. But the book is a success anyway – if someone as white, as educated and as privileged as Sandberg has experienced this many barriers to success, what does that mean for the rest of us? If nothing else, it proves that sexism knows no bounds – the politics of respectability (to borrow a phrase) help us as little as they do people of color. In other words – this shit is real for every woman, true for every woman. It differs in degree, in impact, in the resources we have at our disposal to respond, but it’s a truth that brings us all together as women.
The third reason the book has succeeded has been Sandberg’s call to action. The book deftly outlines the many ways the system is rigged against women – but also identifies some of the ways that women hold ourselves back. We’re often taught to be responsible, to plan for the future, to be the solid, comforting nurturing presence – all of which is great, but we need to be risk takers too. We need to teach ourselves is to be bold and courageous, not perfect. Sandberg created the notion of Lean In Circles – small groups that meet regularly to exchange ideas, learn and push each other out of our comfort zones. By doing that, we can change lives. I know that it changes lives, because I’ve witnessed it in my own Circle.
That is what Leaning In is good for – a little dash of something extra in your morning coffee. We don’t need to dim our lights – we need to help each other shine. Instead of hiding our lights behind bushels, let’s let it all shine out. If it gets too bright, then folks can get themselves some sunglasses.