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Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ offers advice for women in the workplace

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Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” (Knopf, 2013), an inspirational and aspirational guide on women and leadership, has drawn support and nods of familiarity – not to mention a fair share of controversy.

As most tech-savvy types in the Bay Area know, Sandberg served as vice president of global online sales and operations at Google Inc. and is currently chief operating officer at Facebook Inc. She initially promoted the “Lean In” concept at a TED Talk presentation for entrepreneurs and innovators – and followed her discussion with a book of the same name and a website (leanin.org) designed to function as “a global community committed to encouraging and supporting women leaning in to their ambitions.”

Sandberg has researched her topic well and makes many excellent points about women in business pursuing leadership positions. She advises women to “lean in” by being ambitious and accepting challenges that they might tend to shy away from because they appear too difficult or outside their area of expertise. Excellent advice, in my opinion, and I doubt many people would disagree with Sandberg’s recommendation.

Sandberg suggests that women develop the confidence to “sit at the table,” believing in their abilities and not worrying about occasionally feeling like frauds. She notes that successful women are usually not perceived to be as likeable as their male counterparts and offers tips to combat the inequity. She uses the analogy of a career path being like a jungle gym rather than a simple ladder – for both men and women – with many routes to the top.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book addresses the value of mentorship. Sandberg writes that many seminars for women highlight the importance of mentors who will guide them throughout their careers. Instead of finding a mentor and then expecting success, Sandberg emphasizes that the message should be “excel and you will get a mentor.”

To enable female professionals to embark on fulfilling careers, according to Sandberg, male partners should be encouraged to step up to the plate and take on more responsibility at home. On the homefront, the answer to the questions “Can we have it all?” or “Can we do it all?” is no. And that’s OK – women simply need to realize that doing the best they can is good enough.

A number of people have complained that “Lean In” doesn’t address the lack of corporate efforts to promote women into leadership positions. Others have noted that Sandberg’s concept doesn’t include negotiating the challenges women at the bottom AND middle levels of business face. Valid as the criticisms may be, the book is chock-fulL of practical advice for women in the workplace at any level who want to advance.

Some have suggested that Sandberg is an elitist attempting to hijack feminism for personal gain. That didn’t come across to me at all. “Lean In” is a deeply important book that women (and most men) would benefit from reading. It should spark interesting conversations in the workplace, at home and for book clubs. I think everyone should read it, read reviews and critiques of it and then make up their minds. One of book’s chapters is titled “Let’s Start Talking About It.” I couldn’t agree more.

Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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