Leaning In with Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg

Women make up half of the population, get the majority of college degrees in the U.S. and are entering fields historically dominated by men. And in spite of this, in 2013, fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and we hold under 15 percent of executive offices and under 20 percent of our elected congressional offices.

Something isn’t quite right, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg dropped by the Economic Club of Chicago Luncheon last week to let us know it’s time for a revolution.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead is a smart, funny and truly inspiring book about closing the leadership gap. Cleverly, it is written to women…but it’s powerfully relevant for men…or any man that has a daughter, sister, wife, mother or friend that works outside of the home – yup, men. Ms. Sandberg describes it as a ‘feminist manifesto…that [she hopes] inspires men as much as it inspires women.’

Lean In uses hard data on biases, socialized behaviors and ‘likability’ to prove that women and men will have to intentionally do some things differently to get more women in power. In the true spirit of empowerment, Ms. Sandberg implores women to make changes within our spheres of control and influence. She reminds us that perceptions matter – particularly perceptions that are wrong – and she urges us to do our part, individually and collectively, to address how we are perceived so that we can take our rightful places at the helms.

Frankly, the behavior changes Ms. Sandberg suggests are simple but not easy. And perhaps, most powerfully, they’re relevant to working women everywhere. Lean In cites several studies that show that women consistently underestimate themselves and their performance. For instance, men apply for jobs when they have 60 percent of the qualifications listed, and women when they have 100 percent. I was shocked to hear actor Renee Elise Goldsberry  share, “Oh, I do that all the time. I’ve turned down opportunities because I wasn’t sure I was completely qualified. Who knew that guys don’t do that!”

Ms. Sandberg encourages women who want to lead to really ‘lean in’ to our careers for as long as we choose. She entreats women who want to have careers to have confidence, take risks and go for their careers ‘with gusto.’ And she makes clear that to reach the highest ranks of leadership it is also invaluable to have a partner who supports us with gusto.

I went to lunch, curious about the woman creating a national debate. Much of the dissent seems to be related to inaccurate framing of the book’s content. It’s hard to imagine that someone who actually read the book could experience it as anything other than practical and truly relevant – there’s just so much data. Plus, you have to admire and respect the fact that she’s using her power, influence and voice to create positive change.

All of Ms. Sandberg’s income from the book is being donated to Lean In, the non-profit, and other charities that support women. So if you’re curious, or interested, start with her introduction “Internalizing the Revolution.” I suspect once you do, you too will be hooked…and ready to lean in.


About Kali Patrice

Kali Patrice is the founder of The Image Studios, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in branding and image communication. She blogs through “Successful Expression” to share fresh ways to share insights about image, personal branding and self-expression.