In 2014, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook published the updated edition of her bestselling book, “Lean In for Graduates.”For the common man that resides in Pakistan, we would very much believe that although women equality is still progressing in our country, the Western societies, in contrast, would have well embraced it till now. Wrong. Furthermore, even if the common man saw past this, the idea of the world’s most powerful women facing discrimination would be a far-fetched thought owing to their status & connections. Again wrong. I may have entered the book with many assumptions including these 2 and Sheryl tackles them opening up to the reader an entire world of perspectives never seen before.
Take the gender wage gap. According to a survey by Ellevest – an investing company – only 61% of American men believe that it actually exists. For a society that focuses on granting equal opportunities as a basic right, that’s a pretty embarrassing statistic. Addressing such claims, Sheryl starts off from introducing a historical context quoting the example of a woman named Anita Summers who when hired as an economist in 1947 by an oil company was met with the following remark from her boss,
“I am so glad to have you. I figure I am getting the same brains for less money.”
Sadly, these instances are still happening but just more subtly. For those who argue that the difference exists because women typically work less than men, the question is, are they forced to make these choices because of peer pressure and family expectations? The answer is yes in most cases and it is our fault.
Furthermore, even if we discount the pay gap as only one factor that needs to be solved, Sherly brings in 10 others. An example is of the Heidi Howard study she quotes where a group of Harvard University Students was split into 2 groups and given a text describing the success story of a real-life entrepreneur but with a different name assigned to each group. Afterwards, they were asked questions to which the results were that the students saw both Heidi and Howard as equal in their skills and competence but Howard was seen as more likable whereas Heidi not being the kind of person one would want to work for.
Now, a good part of the book is that Sheryl isn’t only a fact picker who tries to make a case for society to solve. She “Woman’s Up” and leads the way showing several solutions that she herself implemented. A memorable one is when she used to work during her pregnancy at Google in its early days. Due to Google’s growth, there was a parking problem which posed an obstacle for expectant mothers. To address this, she asked Sergey Brin – Google’s Co-Founder – to create a reserved parking slot for pregnant women and he agreed rightly to do so.
Take another example, she talks about how women are giving a maternity leave but there seldom exists a “paternity leave”. From the offset, it seems that the scales are in the favor of a woman here granted greater comfort for the care of her child, however this is quickly exposed by the simple fact that by not having a paternity leave, an already toxic stereotype of men not having to help with their children as a responsibility is reinforced. If there was to be a paternity leave, more men would realize this and also have the time to equally contribute to the upbringing of their child. This would make them a true partner which it is vital for the success of every woman.
An interesting perspective is that Sherly gives credit where it is due whether it be for success or a problem like the unequal status of women that has existed for so long.
You’ll see every radical feminist talk about how men are responsible completely for the discourse in the gender hierarchy of society, however she reminds her readers of a phenomenon in the 1970s where women who would gain a leadership role, particularly in male-dominated industries would keep other female workers in the company forcibly down to prevent them from replacing her hence churning out the “queen bee” term.
In conclusion, the book is just not about defying stereotypes and feminism. It also offers advice on finding mentors, applying for jobs, negotiating a salary and leading a successful career with an adequate work-life balance. The reason I enjoyed reading it is that it not only opens me to a perspective unseen before but also will help me be a better colleague, a better leader and a better person by seeing past the harmful trends of society and being at least a voice if not in the position to address them. And for these very reasons, I believe everyone should read this book, it will help you be a better person.