I think it goes without saying that women should read this book, but what I would like to write about is why men should read it, particularly men in IT.
As a man working in IT as a systems engineer, I did not see myself as a potential target audience of this book. I had heard a few minutes of an interview with Sheryl Sandberg on NPR discussing the book, and was impressed by her candor and delivery, but not enough to make my way over to Amazon–this was after all a book for women. I was also resistant because I was afraid this would be the story of a successful woman and mother who had the means to pursue her career and raise her children without having to choose between the two, and that those women (like my mother) who chose to forgo a successful full time career to be a full time parent were in some way being judged.
But the snippet of interview persisted in my mind, and a few days later I dug up a talk Sandberg gave at the Harvard Business School W50 Summit a few months earlier. What I found was not only was I wrong for having feared that her ideas would be a condemnation of women who choose to stay home and raise a family, but that her message while absolutely important and geared toward women, in many ways was equally important for men to hear.
After now having watched the talk and read Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I realize that this book is not just about women leaning in and leading in the workplace, it is about men leaning in and taking on more responsibility in the home. If women are to truly be given a choice, as to pursuit of career, family life or some combination of the two then men have to step up in the household, otherwise the choice is illusory.
There is a degree to which at times I think some of the distinctions Sandberg makes between how men and women approach life and work might be better framed in terms of introvert versus extrovert rather than women versus men. Ultimately though, I don’t think it detracts from her argument, there is just a universality to some of her observations that I believe extends beyond gender.
As one who gets over a month of paid vacation a year, and has at times come very close to losing it since it does not roll over I found the following passage particularly instructive:
And as someone who is fortunate enough to have an employer who allows me to telecommute 50% of the time and values and measures results over face time in the office, I enjoyed the passage below as well:
One of the passages that resonated most with me was the following:
I remember early on in my career I had recommended that a friend fresh out of college apply for an entry level position on the helpdesk at the company I was working for. She protested that her degree was in another field and that the job listed skills and experience that she did not have. I looked over the job posting and asked her to give me four hours of time to teach her what she needed to know. We sat down and went through dismantling a computer and putting it back together, how to image and create boot media, the basics of network troubleshooting with ipconfig and other commands. She took voluminous notes, applied, got the job and has been an asset to the company ever since. When last we spoke she was thinking about getting her masters in computer science.
I don’t have any illusions that those four hours I gave up are what got her the job–that was all her–but it was enough to get her to apply. It saddens me to think how many talented people both women and men hold themselves back out of fear that they don’t know everything going into a new job.
But the reason that I really feel that men, and particularly those who work in IT should read this book is that I think that in reading it I gained a bit of self-awareness into some of the subtle biases that have crept into my thinking over time. I frequently watch talks with different startup founders and have greatly enjoyed the Google Ventures Foundation series with Kevin Rose which interviews luminaries ranging from Elon Musk of Tesla and Space X to Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square.
After reading Lean In, it occurred to me that I had watched almost every talk interviewing a male founder, but hadn’t watched any talks with female founders of startups. At first I wrote this off as simply being the product of my having not heard of their companies (and this may be part of the reason), but in truth there was also a degree to which a part of me believed that the presence of female founders was perhaps a form of tokenism and that I would not find the talks as interesting. The ugly biases inherent in that last statement are not pleasant to face and this was only further reaffirmed when I then watched the interview with Robyn Sue Fisher who is clearly one of the most driven and brilliant founders that Google Ventures has profiled to date.
We have come a long way. It seems almost inconceivable that when my great grandmother was born women did not yet have the right to vote in this country. Nevertheless, I think all of us, both men and women could benefit from reading this book.
It is a quick read.
Take an evening, I doubt you will regret it.