Lean in is a book I’ve always wanted to read from the first day I saw it. The three words at the cover caught my attention – Women, Work, and Leadership.
These three words have unique interconnectivity that I just could not resist. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book and I gripped it from the moment I found it on the shelf.
Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer for Facebook where she has worked in since 2008. She has also worked with Google and lots of major brands.
She began her career as a staff at the US Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, since then she has climbed the corporate ladder and is now the only female at the board of directors for Facebook.
Her book –Lean In encourages women to be more assertive in the workplaces, stock filled with her experiences on motherhood, leadership, and career. Lean in is a book I encourage every Motherland Mogul to read.
Here are some few tips I picked from chapter 1 alone. I hope it wills you to pick up on this book from the shelf.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN’T AFRAID?
Statistics show that:
At the top fifty colleges, less than a third of Student Government Presidents are women
Profession ambition is expected of men but is optional, or worse, sometimes even a negative-for women
“And for all the progress, there is still societal pressure for women to keep an eye on marriage from a young age,” She wrote in her book.
Sheryl shares the story of her first marriage. She married early expecting that it would secure a happy life for her. “In my head, 24 is the perfect age to get married, I think it’s time I do some rethinking”. She said.
“Many women still see ambition as a dirty word,” she says
That’s true. Just the other day I told my friend that my sister was very ambitious like it is a bad word. She works with a large editing firm and when I tell people that, they go “hey that’s cool, she should think of getting married’.
They honestly do not expect more from her. She has proved her point, she has worked hard, now it’s time to get married.
“Leadership roles are not the only way to have a profound impact.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Hellen Keller says “Power is being able to make a decision in the thing that matter to you” sometimes being a CEO may not be the thing that matter most to people.
Sheryl closes the chapter saying – “Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid”
Now you, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
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I was fourteen, maybe fifteen and straight out of primary school, it was my first day in high school. My incoming class teacher asked me if I was willing to be the class prefect. I flat out said no. I just was not willing to take up a leadership position to a group of people whom I had never met before.
This was despite the fact that I knew I was more than capable of doing the job and doing it well. Fast forward three years later I ended up taking a leadership position not only in my class, but in the entire school. Looking back though, I see the same trend repeating itself in my life over and over and that is what Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead is about.
We do it to ourselves
Initially, I thought the book was going to be about your basic feminist tirade. I was pleasantly surprised though, when from the get-go she focused more on how the self-perception that women have is actually what keeps them from moving ahead. ‘Sit at the table’ made it to my top three favourite chapters of the book.
Sandberg discusses how women face a “battle from within” that prevents them from taking advantage of what rightly belongs to them. In the chapter, Sandberg gives a story about a certain meeting she hosted for government representatives —both men and women.
After picking their cups of coffee, the men sat around the conference table but the women opted to sit off to the side of the room, even after much prodding from her. It was an innate decision they made to keep themselves away from issues under discussion even though they had every right to be there.
In the 8th chapter, Sandberg brings up a common argument as far as women empowerment is concerned when she talks about making you partner, a real partner. She talks about the traditional gender roles in homes and how to overcome the limitations that these roles throw at women as far as career planning is concerned.
The discussion revolves around empowerment taking place at home as much as it is being demanded in the work place. By having men take on more responsibility around the home, traditional gender roles are discouraged. Rather, this encourages an equal playing field in the workplace and at home.
An idea that if put into practice in our homes, will enable us to excel both in our careers and in our families. In Africa, especially due to our cultural inclinations this here is easier said than done. Yet, if we are going to let Africa see what we are capable of we must get the entire community involved in this mind shift.
The boys’ club mentality
Generally, Sandberg’s book gives quite a good insight on the limitations placed on women both internally and externally. This was my key take-away. What I hear mostly around the office corridors is the existence of a certain secret ‘’boys club’’ that seeks to promote only the men in the career journey.
What I don’t hear is talk on the limitations that we as women have placed on ourselves. It’s very easy to complain about how the system has been designed to work against our growth. While we are in that mind-set we forget to look at the limitations that we are placing on ourselves.
Sandberg seems to have begun a kind of movement from the book, a not–so-secret girls’ club that should hopefully get all of us out of the pity party we might have in and work hard to get what we are looking to get.
Lean In is definitely worth the read. It is witty, it’s well researched and very open, giving you a glimpse into the lives of top women leaders in the Silicon Valley. You see their weakness and failures and how they rise up in the leadership space.
If you haven’t already read it, I suggest getting a copy. Not just for yourself but for your partner as well because as Sandberg discusses in the final chapter of the book. The goals of women empowerment are only attainable when both men and women pursue them together, at home and in the office and it begins by thinking that it is possible and worth the pursuit.
Today, despite all of the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice. Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice.
And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential
Some days ago on a road trip to IITA Ibadan for my company’s annual retreat, there was this huge debate between what I have chosen to call the new school modern family values enthusiasts and the old school traditional family values enthusiasts, over married women and their career choices/decisions.
It was a long and interesting conversation, voices were raised, opinions flew back and forth, words were exchanged (although with no ill intents), feelings and sentiments were bruised, perspectives were vehemently challenged and even faith was questioned. At the end of the trip (and as such the conversation), there was no victor and no vanquished, proving (yet again) that:
Opinions are formed over time, experiences and the accumulation of a body of knowledge and it takes more than one heated conversation to get people to change those opinions.
Back to the reason we are all gathered here today, I think that because of my age, most of the conversations I have with family, friends, acquaintances and even colleagues are pivoted around, you-guessed-right! Marriage. So, while we talk business, entrepreneurship, career and our shared ambition to take over the world, we should also take a moment to address the pink elephant in the room.
So, tag along while I attempt to dissect some of the concerns we young women have when it comes to the institution of marriage.
The validity of aspiring to marriage
With Chimamanda Adichie’s 2013 TED talk (made even popular by Beyonce’s inclusion in the song, Flawless) finding its way into mainstream culture and conversations, we women are gradually being liberated from that flawed conviction that marriage is the gold standard and a ‘mark of success in life’.
While this can be called progress in some ways, it also has its downsides. Hold on, let me explain. The feminist-driven academic and journalistic culture celebrating today’s “liberated” women, also in some ways, seeks to suppress a natural need for family that most women have.
In recent times, there has been a blizzard of anti-marriage sentiments shared vocally among the female folks especially across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And this is largely because most of them do not want to be seen as aspiring to marriage but hand on heart – and this is quite controversial. I do not know of one woman who does not want to have her own husband and possibly children to come home to after a long day at work.
When discussing the issue in an open and public platform, most young women would be quick to put up an air of indifference with respect to marriage but get her alone and the story would be entirely different. There, I’ve said it! (But let’s not forget that this is an entirely unscientific view based only on my circle of friends, acquaintances and interactions with random people).
Therefore, my take on this issue is rather simple: as much as marriage is not the holy grail of womanhood, I think wanting to be married and subsequently aspiring to it, is valid! As such, you are allowed to be intentional about it, as you are with work/business. (For more on this please try reading this from Dr. Meg Jay).
The dichotomy between marriage and work
In 2011, the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg made a statement that went viral;
“The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”
I only came across this statement last year and it was insightful for me because it reaffirmed a conviction that I have always held and still hold; that the man I marry would take me one step closer to my biggest dreams. Before going further, I should clearly state that I have nothing against stay-at-home mums. On the contrary, any woman who readily gives up the fancy skirt suits and board meetings for house cleaning and grocery shopping has my respect.
However, I do not think that marriage and even motherhood has to be a stumbling block on a woman’s pathway to progress. Society typically expects the woman to lean back and make only those career moves that are convenient for her status as a married woman but that does not always have to be the case. Family is a collective and shared responsibility placed equally on both the man and the woman even though both have to function in different capacities. With proper planning, communication and understanding between partners, I believe it is possible for both to raise a decent family without anyone’s dreams or goals suffering for it.
This is where Sheryl’s statement becomes important. Because for this to happen and for this system to work, you need a man who acknowledges the validity of your dreams, believes in the weight of your ambitions and is ready and willing to support you towards reaching your goals regardless of what that ‘support’ might involve.
So yes, married or single, you are allowed to aspire to heights unimaginable in your personal and professional life and marriage if done right, would serve as a catalyst and not a distraction.
Knowing when enough is enough!
There are reports that say that every fourth Nigerian woman suffers some form of domestic violence in her life time. The worst forms of these are usually battering, trafficking, rape and homicide. And it seems only sensible that I lend my voice to this recurring social menace that is plaguing our society, the institution of marriage and women in particular. This is however not to say that men do not suffer domestic abuse or to disregard that possibility.
On this issue, there really isn’t so much I have to say that would be entirely new to you but this, LEAVE! If you unfortunately find yourself in an abusive relationship, before you consider any other solution or any form of therapy, get yourself out of that situation and environment. No man is allowed to hit you out of love or in an attempt to discipline you or for any other reason that you may want to let yourself believe.
So, for the young woman whose boyfriend angrily shoved her aside and slammed the door on his way out after she informed him of her decision to enroll for another master’s program, for the mother of 2 who got slapped because she scolded her son for spilling fruit juice all over his school uniform, my advice to you is simple. LEAVE!
I have to admit that this is definitely not the easiest thing to do especially with cultural and religious beliefs that advocate total submission and endurance of whatever treatment a woman gets from a man or her husband, as the case may be. But understand that submission as admirable as it is, should also not put you in danger or harm’s way. Many lives and dreams have been lost to domestic violence and yours should definitely not be one of those. Because if he hits you once he would hit you again, if he ever does hit you, please LEAVE!
I’d conclude by saying that as women, we cannot avoid all of the conversations around marriage but what we can do is carefully moderate that conversation in a way that encourages an exchange of perspectives that is beneficial to us all.
So what is your narrative?
Single and conflicted as to whether or not you should be actively seeking out a life partner?
Married and tempted to quit your job because someone thinks you are not capable of making both work?
In a relationship where your partner would rather dialogue with his fists than words?