Leaning In or Bending Over Backwards?

I’m not alone in disliking Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. I’ve had many conversations with friends—all professional women—both online and in person about her myopic view of women working in the corporate world.

I think Sandberg’s view that women need to be more forthcoming in the work world is clouded by her easy path to fortune, paved by her family’s connections, as well as her struggle to overcome her own insecurities.

And because I think Sandberg’s premise is wrong, I think her solutions are wrong. I don’t think the answer to women achieving leadership is simply a matter of asking for it. In my opinion, the external factors of discrimination and double-standards are hindering women’s advancement far more than women’s collective shyness at the bargaining table.

Living the dreamExternal Forces

I base my opinion on my 10 years working in the financial service sector—more than five years as a banker at a global institution, as a consultant to several of the largest brokerage houses, and several years in marketing at investment management firms.

During this time, I’ve seen women be aggressive in negotiations, ask for challenging assignments, and volunteer to spearhead internal projects. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the pay disparity and the “old boy network” in full swing, dampening my colleagues chances at advancement.

In my opinion, not only are women leaning in, but we’re bending over backwards.

Creating Dialogue

But I don’t want to dis Sandberg for her unrealistic view of why women have difficulty climbing the corporate ladder. I want to thank her for helping create much-needed dialogue around the lack of women in leadership positions.

I think the value of Sandberg sharing her personal account, as well as Arianna Huffington in Thrive and Mika Brzezinski in Knowing Your Value, is that these books have sparked the very conversations my friends and I are having. Now during happy hour, we are openly sharing our struggles to make our mark in the work world and swamping insights on how we’ve been able to obtain success. This is progress.

Defining Success

Another reason why I like Sandberg’s book because it’s made me think about my own career goals. While reading her book, I was motivated to think about what I want from a career and my own definition of success.

Here’s what I want professionally:

1) Control. I have to fess up that I don’t like taking orders from others. I like being my own boss and answering to no one.

2) Flexibility. Travel and volunteering are as important to me as my career. This means I need a job that enables me to take off large chunks of time and to work a flexible schedule, including working from home, at night and on the weekends instead of 9-5.

3) Money. I’ve worked hard over the years and I want to be fairly compensated for my industry knowledge, successful track record and global experience. I know my value in marketplace and I demand it.

4) Learning. I get easily bored and want to continually learn about important issues, advances in the industry, new strategies and best practices. Most importantly, I crave opportunities to be creative.

Reading Lean In prompted me to take an unabashed look at my professional self and enunciate what I want from my career. To me, it’s clear that being a consultant in an industry I care about – the nonprofit space – is the right choice for me.

And coming to this realization was well worth the time I spent reading Sandberg’s book. (Although truth be told, I didn’t get through all of it.)

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 12th, 2014 and is filed under Social Issues.

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