April 7, 2013

"Lean In," Part 1 (or chapters Intro thru 2)

I started this blog with reviewing articles, rather than books, in mind. But as I've already got things to say about Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead," I'll start with that.

Maybe it's that the workplace improved drastically between the time Sandberg entered it and when I did. Maybe it's that I work for Google, where I enjoy changes made early on by women such as Sandberg (who it turns out requested the expectant-mother parking that dots our Mountain View campus). Maybe it's that most of the managers in my career, in and outside of Google, have been (incredibly smart and talented, by the way) women, from my first two professional editors right on up to my current boss, who holds degrees from both Stanford and Wharton.

Or maybe it's that I see the book as an opus to an eventual run by Sandberg for political office. (And that I dislike construing the English language, as packaged in books, as a stepping stone to such adventures, however noble.)

Whatever the problem, the book's simply not ringing true so far --  in part, at least, because I feel a serious lack of discrimination as a woman. Sure, I agree that women still aren't on an equal footing with men in most of the world. When I travel for work, I'm very often the only woman on the shuttle from the airport to the adjoining car rental shop. And as one who's recently returned to the United States from India, I can confidently say we U.S. ladies have it better here than in other parts of the world. But I fail to see the point in continuing to crow about the plight of women -- especially when there's such a strong contingent arguing for equality.

Instead, we ought to just get out there and do something about it.

Growing up, I learned from my Mom that women can do anything men can do -- better. In my family, women helped out with the woodworking, the painting, the gardening, the literal heavy lifting. In my high school, no one ever said, "She's such a bright student, especially for a girl." All the student leaders were women: drum majors, student government heads, stage managers for the annual musical -- women all, at one point or another during my time.

I've been unprepared at times for the roles I've taken on. I was often overwhelmed with possibilities and distractions in college, although I couldn't see it then. I could have used some additional career coaching ("How to Manage Up," for instance, might have been a good course) early in my newspaper days. I didn't know much about Silicon Valley when I interviewed at Google, and I'm still learning how to continue growing my skills in an industry that changes daily (if not hourly). In none of these moments, however, have I felt that my growing pains were due to the fact that I'm a woman.

Maybe the rest of the book will get to the how-to portion of effecting change as a woman in the workplace. For once, however, I wish we could have started without the endless list of data points -- and consequent confidence-reducing emotional reminder -- of how poorly women are represented in today's world.

Oh and one last thing: I was surprised to see that Sandberg dedicated the book to her husband for "making everything possible." Isn't this the same kind of rhetoric she's trying to turn us away from? I love my husband, but my success is my own.

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