Lean In: The Corporette Discussion

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean InLean In has been out for a few weeks now, and while I know readers have had a discussions here and there — as well as lots of discussion about the various articles about Lean In — I thought I’d add my own $.02 and give you guys a centralized place to discuss the book.

To begin with:  I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did.  I was surprised to find Sandberg really personable and funny, and I found myself nodding to a lot of what she said (if not saying YESYESYES, as you’ll see below).  I also appreciated the thorough research and facts in the book — the index notes section is almost fifty pages long.

On the flip side, there were still a few things that made my eyebrows shoot up, where I think she is being over-optimistic.  And these are incredibly difficult questions, so maybe we need someone to dream big… but some of it just doesn’t resonate with me.  For example:

– Every reviewer notes that Sandberg is writing for elite women, but all of her examples of women in the book were superstars.  Not just the women who had attended the good colleges and gotten higher degrees, but the women who were remembered years after they had left the workforce and had high-level positions created for them.  How many workers, male or female, have had that happen to them?

– Another big problem with the book is that she presumes it’s easy for people to find really interesting, exciting work in general, in both the “job” category and the “career” category.  In my experience (my own as well as my friends, both male and female), this simply is not common.  Finding a career and a job you’re passionate about are two incredibly difficult hurdles — almost as difficult as finding your life partner, I think.  For that woman who has both the amazing career and the amazing job (or even one of the two), I think it’s much, much easier to go back to work (barring child-specific woes such as health or behavioral problems).

But what about the rest of us?  I worked as a lawyer for nine years, give or take, and I never quite felt like I’d hit my stride.  There was one example she gave of a friend of hers who did feel indifferent to her career and job, but notes that after fifteen years the woman finally found the work to be rewarding.  I can see how that might be true, and I’ve even heard readers say it — but let’s be honest: I doubt Sandberg’s friend’s return to work was based on her ambition or “leaning in,” as Sandberg hopes for all of us — instead it was based on one of those other two powerful (and valid) reasons to go back to work: wanting/needing more money, or disliking the drudgery of childcare.  That said, I don’t think either of those motivators is necessarily going to get you to the C-suite.

– Something that I both agreed and disagreed with was her characterization of a career as a marathon.  She writes: “The male marathoners are routinely cheered on: ‘Lookin’ strong! On your way!'” But the female runners hear a different message. ‘You know you don’t have to do this!’ the crowd shouts.  Or ‘Good start — but you probably won’t want to finish!’ … As women struggle to endure the rigors of the race, spectators shout, ‘Why are you running when your children need you at home?'”  (pp. 100-101)*  It’s an apt analogy, I think… but a difficult one because I do think of it as a right won by feminism for women to say, “You know, maybe a marathon sounded like a better idea in theory,” or “ooh, look, a nice jungle gym to go play on” (Sandberg later analogizes a career to a jungle gym instead of a ladder, something I definitely agree with.)  (Or even: “Hey, the marathon ends when I’m 65 — I’m going to finish, but I”m going to pause for a little while.”) One of the other things that always bugs me about discussion of women “dropping out” is that I haven’t seen any really rigorous study of where they’re going.  I think a lot of smart women decide that investment banking, law, or consulting are great starting points for them — a way to pay back school loans, to build their bank accounts, to wash off the naivete of youth and grow up a bit — and then leave to start businesses, which are inevitably derided as “pink ghettos” because they fill a need for women that wasn’t there before.  (Obviously, I’m a case in point.)  I think the conversation tends to be too black and white — you’re either in or out, you work full time or you don’t, you finish the marathon or you don’t — and women who make their own way (as Forbes recently noted, many of them making more than $100K for less than 20 hours of week a work) are put into the “dropped out” category.

The stuff I agreed with:

– imposter syndrome (p. 29) – Sandberg jokes about how at her Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony at Radcliffe, the women listened to a speech called “Feeling Like a Fraud,” and how she and her “brilliant and totally-not-a-fraud roommate” were nodding vigorously.  Later, telling one of her male classmates about the keynote he was completely befuddled as to why it would be interesting, and Sandberg and her roommate joked that the speech the men listened to “was probably something like ‘How to Cope in a World Where Not Everyone Is as Smart as You.'”  — YESYESYES.  I have always felt like an imposter.  As a lawyer, as an honor-roll student, even now writing this blog — it’s a burden that I carry with me.  I wish I’d heard about the imposter syndrome as early as college, when Sandberg did — instead I learned about it in my mid-20s, and was SO RELIEVED to know that my amazing, intelligent, totally-not-a-fraud friends felt the same way I did.

– “maternal gatekeeping” (p. 108) — she talks about how a lot of women discourage their husbands from doing their share at home by being too controlling or too critical.  YESYESYES. This needs to be a longer discussion here on Corporette, but a short story now: I’ve definitely done this to my husband, and it was only sheer exhaustion in the early days of our son’s life that I didn’t go more insane than I did about his diapering habits.  Even now we “joke” about laundry — my husband loves to “do” a load or two of laundry every day when he comes home; in part because it gives him a feeling of accomplishment.  But he doesn’t really love putting it away, and he frequently forgets about it entirely.  (He also will mix like four different laundry hampers together to get one load, which means that whoever puts it away (ahem) has to open every drawer and closet in the house for one or two pieces of clothes.  OH THE HUMANITY!  It feels silly even whining about this now.  Instead of constantly arguing with my husband about the definition of “doing” the laundry, feeling like he’s “leaving it for me to do,” or discouraging/banning him from doing it entirely, I’ve learned to just enjoy the fact that we usually have clean clothes, and not fret about them being in piles all over the apartment.

– how to get a mentor (pp 64-84) — lots and LOTS of great advice here.  I agree with her that a mentor is an occasional force in your life, not someone prepared to do excessive hand-holding; sometimes mentors can be created by asking for feedback.

– setting personal goals on a long-term basis as well as a shorter, 18-month plan (59) — I really like this idea and am going to try adopting it.  I’m a big maker of lists and to-do plans, but I like the time frame idea.  I thought her description of how she presses herself to learn new skills was really helpful — she describes how she had worked at Google for more than four years, yet never negotiated a business deal, and so she asked her boss to give her a chance.  It’s the kind of thing that I think we all should be doing.

– touting other women’s achievements — I think this is a difficult line to walk.  On the positive side, I thought a great example of this in the book was when she describes the four female executives at Merrill Lynch who, in 2004, started having lunch together once a month, and afterwards they would all go back to their offices and tout one another’s achievements.  (pp 164-165) I can imagine that example being a totally natural kind of thing — “I know __ just successfully handled this issue, let’s go talk to her.”  On the “is she seriously suggesting this?” side, at one point she notes that junior women can support senior women who have been interrupted by “gently but firmly telling the group, ‘Before we move on, I’d like to hear what [senior women] had to say.'”  (p. 149) What the whatwhat?  I don’t think so — if I were the senior woman who had that done to me by some whippersnapper I would be seething.

 Readers, what are your thoughts about Lean In?  What were the parts of the book that had you nodding YESYESYES, and which parts had you scratching your head?

* All page references are to the first edition of the book by Knopf.


  1. I respect this WOMAN, but face it, we can NOT all just lean in. I am also a PROFESSIONEAL, but if I try to LEAN in to much, the manageing partner will NOT make me a partner. FOOEY!

    That mean’s I can NOT ask to many question’s before sending him $30,000 to be a PARTNER.

    Frank says I must trust the partnership and that mean’s NOT leaning in. My dad is kickeing back and sayeing that I can be a partner elsewhere, but I am not to sure.

    What does the HIVE think?

  2. My biggest frustration with the book is that I agreed with it, but the question is HOW. I’ve been lucky in my career so far, but not all of us are lucky enough to have Larry Summers on speed dial to just hand us a Chief of Staff position. I want to find my way to the top of the corporate ladder but I don’t know what my path is to get there and she doesn’t really help there with her stories…

    • AnonInfinity :

      What kind of career do you have? What is the highest position that you want to attain in your organization (or your dream organization)?

      Every career ladder or jungle gym is different, so she can’t write a book that speaks to women in different careers if she gets super specific advice about a certain industry.

      Maybe a good way for you to help figure some of this out is to try to find a mentor in your field who can help point you in the right direction. I’ve often asked my mentors things like, “What’s the next step if I want to be X in a year?”

      • Joan Holloway :

        After reading Sandberg’s discouraging chapter about finding a mentor, I’d be interested to hear how you found yours. I think this was one area where Sandberg could have stood to be more specific. My takeaway from the chapter was (1) excel; and (2) stop waiting for a prince to rescue you.

        • AnonInfinity :

          I have two people that I would say, “X is a mentor,” and several folks that I feel comfortable asking advice on particular subjects. I approached all of these people in pretty much the same way, but a couple of the relationships just grew more than the others.

          Every time I would get to know another person in my firm, through a project or just by hearing about something that person was working on, I’d make a note of what that person is good at. For the people I felt a little personal connection with or who I had a project or two with, I’d start asking questions about whatever area that person was best at or how to improve on a specific project I had with that person. Over time, certain relationships have grown deeper naturally.

          I do think that luck has a little to do with it (i.e., will you actually meet and recognize a person that you really click with). Excelling helps. Being proactive is probably the biggest thing. I’m fairly positive the biggest reason one of the VIP partners has taken me under his wing a bit is that I’m not scared to ask him questions about just about anything. I’ll also speak up when I think he’s off base or needs to consider another aspect of the problem more fully. (Side anecdote — I was having a bad day a few weeks ago and found myself just agreeing, and he said, “Now, are you going to contribute anything to this conversation or just agree with everything I say?”)

          My biggest tips — Find someone you connect with naturally. Find someone you respect. Be very respectful of the person’s time. Don’t be a robot. Thank the person. Share exciting news with the person, especially if some piece of advice worked well (they want to be proud of you!). Curiosity and enthusiasm go a LONG way.

          That was long and rambly, but I hope there’s something useful in there. I will conclude by saying that I think finding a mentor is more of an art than a science.

          • I completely agree with this post. I would say I have 4-5 ‘mentors’ – ie senior level people that I’ve clicked with through the years. My policy has always been to keep in touch with these ‘special’ people even when leaving jobs – with more of a ‘drink after work’ relationship. I have kind of a silly side to my personality and certain people tend to really like and remember me. Others not so much! Btw I am a VP for a large commercial real estate Co.

  3. I found this book to be helpful on how an individual woman can make it in a man’s world. But what if women took their higher grad school education levels and shaped it into a woman’s world? Lean In seemed dated to me, suited to women of Sheryl Sanderg’s generation.

    Don’t lean in; change the world.

    • AnonInfinity :

      I do think she makes that argument, though maybe not as overtly as some of the points Kat mentioned. She talked a few times about getting parking at Google for pregnant employees and said that she was probably not afraid to ask for that (and it was so easily granted) because of her position in the company.

  4. I’m not finished with the book yet and I like it so far. However, parts of the book are actually pretty depressing to me! I feel as if she is saying that, until the rules/environment change, women can’t act the same way as men and expect to be treated/perceived the same way (for example, she points to a study that shows that men and women in general are turned off by successful women). I understand her point – we only have the power to change ourselves, but I wish that men were required to change. Another example – she references a talk she gave where she said she’d answer two more questions but went on to answer more than two questions becuase there were still hands raised in the audience. Afterwards, a female attendee approached her and explained that she put her hand down once two questions had been asked, but that the men whose hands remained raised got additional questions answered, so the lesson she learned was to keep her hand up. Why can’t men learn the lesson of respect for a person’s time (and put their hands down once two questions were answered)? Anyway, I’m eager to read what others think about the book and am glad that there is a forum here to discuss it.

    • For me, the lesson should have been learned by the speaker — she was too people-pleasing when she kept on answering questions past what she said she would have.

    • locomotive :

      I agree that men need to learn to change as well if we want full equality in the workplace and in the home, and I think she makes the point that that will only happen with time and raising the next generation(s) in a way and with role models that that can become the world. What we see right now is not that, and it will not change in the blink of an eye, but the way women address their careers needs to have a practical root. But yes I agree, I wish we could just tell everyone to be considerate and respectful!

    • <>

      I thought the point of that was
      1. Men use the fact that women feel the same way to say that it’s not gender discrimination, but it is.
      2. Women need to learn to stand up for women.

      She also made a point that historically women were competing with other women for a select few slots for essentially token females. So, it was to their advantage to take other women down. That doesn’t seem like it’s the case any more, so we really need to support other women since they’re no more than competition than the men.

      • Sorry. The following quote should be inside the angle brackets.

        “(for example, she points to a study that shows that men and women in general are turned off by successful women).”

      • Sydney Bristow :

        As I was reading that part, I kept thinking that it shouldn’t be that way anymore, but sometimes it seems like it is. I recently started to get to know a female partner who I really admire and she has been very generous and helpful to me as well as others and as wonderful as that is, it struck me that this is the first time I can think of since graduating law school where I’ve experienced that. The queen bee era should be over, but we seem to be having some trouble moving past it sometimes.

  5. This is my inflight reading for tomorrow. Looking forward to following the discussion.

    • TO Lawyer :

      I’m also really looking forward to reading it. I’ve had a copy for a couple weeks sitting on my nightstand but I seem to be saving it for something…

      • I thought it was an easy read for non-fiction (which I always read much slower than fiction).

        Due to the notes and the index, there’s really only about 170 pages of “real” text in the book.

  6. Replying to hear comments.

  7. I think I saw a comment about doing one of these circles for readers of this website in DC. Is that still taking place? My schedule is too unpredictable due to travel, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable being the organizer, but if it is taking place I would love the opportunity to join

  8. Divaliscious11 :

    Intended to finish this while on vacation… getting back to it this evening hopefully! So far, I am doing a lot of head nodding and yessing as well…..

  9. Thanks for starting this, Kat. This book is on my Kindle waiting for me to have some time to get to it, and today (home sick) may be the perfect day.

  10. AnonInfinity :

    I read this book the week it came out, and I’m so excited that we’re talking about it. I’ve been just dying to talk about it with other women.

    My main complaint about the book is that it was not as targeted toward men as well as women. I know the book can’t be everything to everyone (my major complaint about most of the critiques I’ve read), BUT this conversation has been happening between women for a long time. Men need to realize the biases, etc., that women often face in order for things to really change. One of the partners at my firm read this, and we had a great conversation about it. I wish it had been marketed or produced in a way that more men would read it.

    • I thought she did address men, too, pointing out that they have to proactively seek out women and/or do things a little differently (not just calling on people who raise hands, for example).

      Now, I have no idea how many men are reading the book or if the book is being marketed appropriately for men. But, I didn’t think the book was written just for women.

      • AnonInfinity :

        That is a good point! I’d forgotten about that part. I will blame the marketing on the publisher, then.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        I’ve asked my dad to read it because he is in a high level position and I presented it as a book full of ideas that he likely hasn’t ever really had to think about before.

        • Houston Attny :

          I’d be interested in hearing what your dad thinks of it. A man in a high-level position with an educated daughter – how does he perceive what she says in the book in light of what he’s experienced in the workplace and what he’s seen you experience in the workplace? (Yes, I realize it sounds like I’m trying to get your dad to write an essay! “Compare and contrast…”) Just his overall thoughts would be so interesting.

        • wintergreen126 :

          I did the same. I told him that he’s in a position to make changes, and that this book has ideas he should consider.

          There were certain things in the book that sounded exactly like something my dad would say to me–particularly the part about how women won’t apply for positions they don’t think they are totally qualified for, where as men who are maybe 60% qualified will. My dad has given me several spiels on applying for something that I think I can handle even if I don’t fit every qualification. The worst they can say is no.

      • “pointing out that they have to proactively seek out women and/or do things a little differently (not just calling on people who raise hands, for example)”

        So is she endorsing “binders full of women”?

  11. I was surprised that much of the book didn’t seem to really apply to me. I have never felt like an imposter, there is no question that my husband will contribute equally to housework and childcare, and I rarely encounter sexism in the workplace. I’ve tried to figure out why I have been so sheltered, and the only thing that I can pin it on is my geographic location–the Pacific Northwest. The part in Lean In that actually made me gasp in disbelief was when Sandberg wrote about the lunch meeting where the women tech execs grabbed lunch last, from the buffet, and then wouldn’t eat at the main table with everyone else. Seriously? This happens?

    I am an associate attorney in my late 20s at a large-ish law firm. I grew up in the PNW, left and went to upstate New York for undergrad and spent a couple years in Massachusetts, and came back for law school. I definitely noticed the different approach when I was living on the East Coast. Men were more aggressive about their careers, and women were generally more quiet about their accomplishments. When I came back to the PNW for law school, it was the exact opposite. We dominated the classroom. Women were not afraid to raise their hands and run for leadership positions on law review or other student groups. When I graduated the top three students in the class were women. The men I know (from school and work) are genuinely interested in being hands-on parents, and are allies for their working wives and partners.

    The same has been true at my law firm. There are fewer female partners, definitely, but plenty of female associates. We speak up at firm lunches and meetings, joke easily with our male colleagues, and work just as many hours as the men. The male associates spend just as much time at home taking care of their sick kids.

    I haven’t finished the book, so I don’t know if Sandberg ever discusses how geography plays a role, but I would love to see if what I’m saying is true. Maybe I have just been extremely lucky to live in a bubble and I have no idea what I’m talking about. Maybe not. Any thoughts?

    • Regular poster from PNW :

      I’m in the PNW as well, at a law firm, early 30s, and my experience has not been like yours – not even close. All of the partners on my floor are men. Yes, there are plenty of women associates and we speak up, etc. but we are not promoted to partner at the same rate as men. A lot of women associates leave to go in-house, start their own firm (usually right after they have a baby or two), or leave the law altogether. A lot of women equity partners (not just at my firm, but throughout the PNW) either don’t have children, have one child, or have a house husband. Is that not the case at your firm as well? I have several mom friends who are income partners at firms and do not have a portable book of business because of the old boys’ network, lack of sponsors, etc. They have absolutely no power to change the rules at their firm.

      • My firm doesn’t have a very high percentage of female partners–only about 25%. But, almost all of those women have multiple children, and working husbands. We have more women than men as associates. Where I do notice the difference is when lawyers choose to go part-time. We have a couple women that have gone to a part-time schedule when they had kids, and have gotten pushed off the partner track.

      • Ex-PNW here, and I agree. There were no women corporate partners in my office at my (large) PNW firm. The male partners all have wives that stayed home full-time. I felt like they were mommy-tracking me before I even had children. People fell all over themselves to tell me about how I could go part-time, non-partner-track, etc. The assumption was that I didn’t *want* to be a full-time, partner-track associate.

      • I should add that I work in the south now and feel I’m in an environment that is far less problematic in terms of gender politics. The assumption is that I want to make partner. No one assumes that, as a result of my gender, I’ll be stepping off the partner track to have kids.

        • Blonde Lawyer :

          Interesting. My inlaws live in the south and when I visit there I can’t help but feel the men I meet are shocked that I have a full time professional job and that I’m not just interested in making babies with my husband.

          • I don’t know where in the south your in-laws live, but I can tell you that I’d find the experience you describe surprising and unusual in Atlanta. Yes, in the south you may be more likely to find the opinion that women *should* be SAHMs, but you’re not going to find people who are “shocked” that women have full-time jobs.

            Anecdote time:

            When I got married, my ex-h’s co-workers asked him if I was going to finish law school. Where we were living? New York City.

            When I was a second-year associate, a partner expressed the opinion to me that he didn’t understand why women went back to work after having kids, because “what’s the point of you having them, then?” (the “you” being directed to women). Where I was living? Seattle.

          • Anonymous :

            Agreed. I’m in Houston, and no one would be shocked at all. In fact, I think my firm would be really surprised if I didn’t come back after my maternity leave. Most do. It rubs me the wrong way when people say “the South” is backwards in whatever way. There may be some small towns where this would hold true, but I’d wager there are small towns everywhere where it would be true, not just in the south.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m honestly not understanding how “I rarely encounter sexism at work” meshes with “we have tons of female associates, but not many partners”. Think more about this.

      • Simple, partners are older. We have MANY male partners over the age of 60. We only have a couple female partners over 60. But, this isn’t the result of sexism TODAY, it’s the result of sexism 30-40 years ago.

        • Anonymous :

          Not really. Firms starting making partners in serious quantities at 10 years out. 20 years ago, women were close to half of law schools. Are half of your firm’s 40 year old partners women?

      • Anon for this :

        Um, exactly — 1,000%. My law firm also has tons of associates, fewer contract partners and even fewer equity partners and that’s precisely the problem. There are almost no women in leadership roles yet women have comprised at or near 50% of the law schools for some time now.

  12. I loved it. But I’m also right in the center of Sandberg’s target audience (age 30, ambitious, currently in middle management, in a job/ career I love at the intersection of two very male-dominated industries, married to a true partner, no kids etc).

    To change the system, there needs to be both grassroots, bottom-up change as well as systemic, leadership driven top-down change. Sandberg addresses how to get women in positions of authority to be able to get that top-down change- while also starting a network to strengthen the grassroots. Do men need to be involved? Yes. Is it easier to start with women as opposed to addressing the whole population? Yes, because more women have a personal interest in changing the system than men do.

    If this is a cause you care about, is it better for you to join the grassroots, try to work your way up through the system, or both? Different people have different strengths, priorities and interests; to push ahead with improving the options for women in society, we need women to be involved at every level, from CEO to say at home mom to teacher to president to small business owner to lawyer to scientist and everything in between. Sandberg did not include this question in her book, as her focus is really on getting more women into the C-suite; I see her book as part of a larger agenda to increase the opportunities for women across society.

  13. Anne Shirley :

    I’m only part way through, so I may be commenting too soon, but what has really struck me is how personal it is. From the commentary, I expected a broad global take on things but what I’m actually reading is a ton of great tools I can apply right now to improve my own life. I’m seeing it as an advanced version of NGDGTCO.

  14. Interesting discussion. I don’t think a pink ghetto is quite what Kat thinks it is. Women tellers at a bank are in a pink ghetto. Women who leave careers to start their own businesses to “fill a need for women that wasn’t there before” are not.

  15. I haven’t read the book yet, but have been following the press about it and all the discussions here.

    I definitely agree with the notion that we need to let men do more if we want to have successful careers. I notice this with my SO who is incredibly helpful around the house and who I have no doubt will actually parent kids with me, instead of “babysitting” them. Nevertheless, I end up doing more because I just “care” about certain things more, and I really shouldn’t. I notice that Mr. AIMS is totally content to let me take the lead on a lot of household things and so I have been working on doing the same. For some reason, I think there is some part of women that gets a weird joy out of beying the only one who knows how to get a red wine stain out of a rug and I have decided I don’t really want to hoard that joy anymore.

  16. Sydney Bristow :

    I got in a discussion with my boyfriend’s parents over the weekend about this book. Their daughter is my age and is having some trouble in her career right now and a conversation about a new female VP in her office who seems like she may be an advocate and mentor quickly turned to the differences between men and women in the workforce. His mother was extremely receptive to what I was saying about the book, and his father was to some extent. In his view though, it is black and white that women cannot come together to fight for the important things or even come together to push through a big project at work and that it is just a basic biological difference between men and women. I imagine that this is a somewhat widely shared view among men of his age (early 60s) and although the criticism of Sandberg’s book seems to reinforce this idea since it mainly seems to come from other women, I do hope that one of the things this conversation can result in is learning how to change that (however much of it is reality as well as the perception).

  17. Kat–the next time we have a book discussion, can you give us a head’s up, so that people can find the time to read the book? I know that this book is ubiquitous right now…but I haven’t found the time due to busy life stuff. The discussion might be more fun if it were a live chat on FB or people had more warning. Thanks!

    • PA Attorney :

      I find it interesting that when women leave a full-time “work for the man” type of job when they have a family it’s seen as a tragedy by feminists, but that’s something I aspire to do whether or not I have kids in the near future. My measure of personal success will be when I can still pull a six-figure salary by working for 20 hours a week from my home office. I’m an incredibly smart, successful and well-respected young associate attorney with a former career in computer design and no reservations about my actual accomplishments and capabilities. I’m sure if I wanted to I could make it big in the executive scene of Silicon Valley, but in the end if I can make enough money to afford to live comfortably I’d rather use my best years of life to pursue my hobbies, spend time with loved ones, sleep well, travel for more than 2 weeks a year, work when it’s raining, go to the beach when it’s sunny, give my clients as much face time as they want without constantly looking at a watch and exercise every day. I’m tailoring my career and life to achieving that goal before I hit 35. I won’t make as much money or go down in history but YOLO right? :)

      I’m also confused by the “Imposter syndrome” you mentioned, Kat. Is that a feeling that some women don’t think they’re as good as they look on paper? I had an interviewer once tell me that I’m much too modest about my accomplishments while she listened to numerous young men applying for the same job puff themselves up over very insignificant traits or achievements. She told me to stop being so modest and since that day I’ve decided simply to act more like a guy at work and even to an extent at home. It turns out that guys CAN pick up their own clothes off the floor. It might take a week to happen though.

      • I admittedly haven’t read Lean In yet, but what feminists are grieving for someone who is making six figures (even low six figures) working 20 hours a week? I think *some* people do think it’s sad when someone leaves behind an education and career to do nothing other than stay home but that’s not the same thing as starting your own business and working for yourself. Not to mention that by all measures this would mean great compensation and a successful enterprise.

      • Anonymous :

        +1. Perhaps I’m jaded now 15 years into my career (and in my current role as a VIP’s co-right-hand man), but throwing elbows for dozens of years even once you sit at the big kid’s table doesn’t seem terribly appealing to me right now.

      • Imposter Syndrome isn’t something Sandberg or Kat made up. See:



      • +10000

        As a 30 yo attorney, I felt this as soon as I started working in NYC post law school.

        Being able to do the things you love during our short lives and spending it with the people our love while not having to worry about roof/food/health is my dream too.

  18. Woman in Academic Medicine :

    I read this…also reluctantly and expecting not to like it…. i am just past the target demographic in that i am *very* late 30s and have 3 small kids. Didn’t really leave before I left because i was in residency right up until my first child and then it was a mad scramble to see patients and publish in between maternity leaves and breast pumping, etc.

    I too liked it a lot more than I expected and more of it resonated than I had expected..had low expectations because I am in medicine while she is in business…though it’s BigMed, I guess, as it’s a big system with very corporate ish culture in some ways.

    The big thing I agreed with was how men were judged more on their potential while women are judged on accomplishments. That fact permeates almost every aspect of the institution where I work and judging by talking to my female friends in similar jobs on both coasts…seems like that isn’t unique to my locale… Women in leadership where I am are by-in-large are either childless or utterly compliant Yes-people (very few of those). Women who speak up are quickly labeled by male colleagues as either histrionic or bitches.

    I am still digesting it all a bit, but I did find useful some of what she was saying about the way a woman presents her idea as nice but persistent. I do feel that medical training beat out of me the niceties of interaction a bit. There can just be so much to do and keep up with and quite a bit of fatigue (and now throw in babies at home) that schmoozy small talk and niceties can seem really superfluous in the day to day… It’s very easy for one to become “all-business” at work just to get through the day…I hadn’t really thought of how alienating that might be to the male leadership who may be more acculturated to warmth from women….I do think after reading her book, I will try to be more conscious with leadership about being nice (i guess) in presentation of my ideas or positions–not that I was abrasive or inappropriate before, but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to be pleasing. I can’t tell if that’s a positive or a negative honestly, but maybe an action item after reading it?

  19. Lobbyist and former bossy little girl :

    I liked it far more than I expected to. And I don’t think she was letting the world off the hook for there being sexism, but rather focusing on what she personally could do to change her own behavior in a world where sexism exists. That to me seems realistic and helpful. The lessons I took from it were:
    1) keep my hand up
    2) sit at the big table
    3) I can and should help other women when I can. Loved the quote (Madeline Albright, I think) about there being a special circle of hell for women who do not help other women.

    I also totally related to being a bossy little girl and the lesson to embrace that side of you rather than try to tamp it down. I’d like to think I’ve refined my bossiness to make it less off putting, but I also found it validating and empowering to have that side of me praised.

    For those who haven’t read it yet, it was a quick easy fun read.

  20. I’m intrigued by the idea of creating your own job where you dictate your hours and try to pull in a six-figure salary. Has anyone thought about what a lawyer would do? Hang a virtual shingle and do legal work for a handful of clients, like handling contract disputes or negotiating agreements? I don’t mean set up a solo practice office, I’m thinking of a leaner approach like a freelancer who works out of coffee shops. I think it would be awesome, but I’d love to hear if it’s been done.

    • I have to say I’d be reluctant to engage legal services from someone whose degree of commitment doesn’t extend to having an office, being covered by indemnity insurance, paying fees to professional associations and whatever else might be implied by having a solo practice.

      But I do know someone who conducts training in a niche regulatory area and works successfully as a contractor. She is typically engaged by companies to run half-day sessions in her niche and I think it works for her because she was an admired practitioner prior to this training gig and had a couple of clients with a recurring need for this kind of training.

    • Solo Practitioner :

      There are lots of solos who have “virtual law practices,” which is what you are referring to. This is certainly a trend.

      Whether the practice succeeds is a different story, and depends a lot on the practice area and how much work/money you want to invest at the beginning.

      I’m not sure there are very many businesses in any sector that succeed very quickly without much work.

  21. oil in houston :

    I read this book last week, and like many noted, loved it. I still don’t get all the bad publicity on this…
    my take: i loved the comment on sitting at the table, I’ve been guilty of that, not always realizing it, and it’s a wake up call.
    yes, it is a chicken and egg situation, and yes, I’m afraid this is still very much the world we live in. I’ve been working for 10+ years now, always in male environments (banking and then oil), and it can be a struggle. Pretending it’s not true and that we’re all equal now just makes things worse and it can make women believe it’s their fault if they don’t succeed as much or as quickly. Knowledge is power, particularly in this case in my opinion.
    I loved the section about letting your partner be an equal, like Kat noted on laundry etc. I’m definitely guilty of that too…. will watch for it now!

    all in all, highly recommended read!

  22. OttLobbyist :

    I just started reading the book and expected to get angry at it, based on the press — the things I have taken away from it so far, like others above, is to not feel bad about being assertive, and to recognize that no one else is going to “sell” my strengths for me. I don’t like the advice around mentors – that idea works in very specific environments and fields, and I think she brushes over the value of building peer networks that will move with you.

    The thing that I am still not settled on is how we and the author are defining equality. Does it really mean 50% of corporate boards are made up of women? I’d like to think we are actually past that idea of equality and working beyond that toward a society in which both men and women can choose where they put their primary focus.

  23. I really enjoyed the book. I love hearing from successful women and learning from their journeys. I already use a number of the techniques she described, but I know A LOT of professional women that don’t. I think every woman should read this in college and really soak it in before they enter the professional world. There are a number of educated women that never make it far on the career ladder because they don’t “Lean In.” I work with those women; the ones who don’t sit at the table, who take notes, who leave the impression that they aren’t invested in a career, even though they likely have the same career ambitions I do. Even though I feel fairly confident in my career trajectory thus far, I still underlined a good bit of the book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  24. Anonymous :

    I enjoyed the book when I started it, but then it got too repetitive and boring. And I felt like the examples were forced, and unrealistic characterizations of real human beings. Too “goofus and gallant” for me. After a while, I started feeling like Sanberg would catapult from being entirely too critical of women, to saying “but ladies, I know it’s hard, because here a bunch of footnotes citing sociological studies saying women have it hard.” Then a wrap up with: “nevertheless, do this generic thing and THAT will be the solution to the problem.” The generic thing was never a practical, actionable step to take, but something really fluffy like “speak your truth…but not too much.” I’m going to try to finish it because I paid full price, but I think this could have been a long article instead of a book.

  25. I had a lot of the same head-nodding moments you did.

    Another one: Seeing myself in the bossy child. (My parents affectionately called me “chief” when I was little.)

    In fact, I felt a lot of personal resonance with Sheryl’s life story. I’m not a high powered COO, but we are the same age, so many of her experiences, particularly in school, felt very familiar. (Phi Beta Kappa here, too.)

    I have the e-book, so I feel like I want to go back, re-read and highlight … :)

  26. I’m about half-way through the book and also like it far more than I thought I would from the advance press. As a BigLaw vet of 20+ years, I so wish I had this book when I first started practicing. I have a few tips I would add to Sheryl’s as well. But I think the biggest question I still struggle with is, “why would I *want* to lean in?” I don’t find the rewards of the “big” jobs worth the stress. But I will keep reading and leaning … maybe it is worth it.

  27. I worked with her ghost/co-writer who could not be less helpful to women–or frankly to men, for that matter. I was all set to like the book, but couldn’t get the bad taste of her out of my mouth.

  28. I guess I don't want to lean in. :

    I think part of the issue is that what we want when we are 22 evolves as we reach our 30s. As little girls, our generation was told that we could be anyone, do anything. College and legal educations are easily attainable with the oh-so-easy to access student loans. We go through the process, achieving and excelling in school and in our early careers, but then, something happens. Our priorities change. The high powered career and big pay check which were attractive to us at 20, are somehow far less attractive when you want to have kids, and actually spend time with them.

    If I don’t get ahead, and fall behind my male peers, I don’t think it will be because of sexism, or because I failed to lean in, I think it is because I have a set of shifted priorities and make a decision not to do so. I am not so sure that is a bad thing.

    • I think what she’s saying is: why should you be the one, rather than your male peers, whose priorities shift toward your family and away from your career? Until we have the kind of equality where both men and women value both their careers and their families, and see their role as being responsible for both, we’re going to continue having this leadership gap where women disproportionately drop out of the workforce and, if they do come back, rarely ascend to the same heights that they would if they had kept working.

      I just read the part of the book where she cites a recent study of, I think, Yale undergrads where 60% of the men said they would expect their wives to scale back on their careers when they had a family, and only 4% of the women said they would expect their husband to do the same.

      She also points out that when men announce an addition to the family, people say “Congratulations” — with women, people say, “Congratulations, what are you going to do about work?”

      I see this ALL the time in my big law firm. Nearly all the men have wives who stay home, and none of the women do. And it’s not like these are trophy wives — these are highly educated and accomplished women! All of whom decided that it’s not worth it for their lives to be so crazy, so their husbands could continue working while they stayed home. Because there are so few good options for both partners to share those home responsibilities.

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