Leaning In


How we can get more women to the top.

With school fast approaching, I have been reading a book a week to chip away at my 2016 reading list. This time I opted for Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.


Here is the Amazon summary:

Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.”  She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home.

Written with both humor and wisdom, Sandberg’s book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. Lean In is destined to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can.

Keeping with my theme of self-development – specifically for women – Lean In sounded like another great book to read. And it definitely was. Sandberg asks the question, “Why aren’t there more female leaders and how can we change that?” Sandberg knows that in the C-Suite, she has the power to affect change and she wants more women to be able to do the same. Relatable, understandable, and probing, I would highly recommend Sandberg’s work.

Here are a few of my favorite sections:

Sit at the Table

No one gets to the corner office by sitting at the side and not at the table.

A big part of making changes is being heard, and the only way to achieve that is by sitting at the table. Sandberg talks here about a business meeting she led to a group of men, one of whom was accompanied by female aids. When everyone was sitting down, the aids opted to sit against the wall instead of at the table, where chairs were plentiful. As the meeting was starting, Sandberg asked the women to join at the table and they refused. When Sandberg approached them after the meeting, hoping to gain clarification, the women said that they didn’t believe they deserved to be at the table.

What shocked Sandberg most here wasn’t that the women believed they didn’t deserve to sit at the table, but that, when asked to join, they refused. As women, we have to be more assertive and take our rightfully earned seat at the table, and the best way we can do that is through confidence.


Much like Amy Cuddy’s book Presence, Sandberg talks about faking it until you make it when it comes to confidence. She first realized this while teaching an aerobics class where she was instructed to smile during the hour-long session. Sandberg realized that on the days when she did not feel happy enough to smile going into class, upon having faked it for an hour, she left feeling happier. Sandberg even cites Cuddy’s power position studies about holding a power position for 2-minutes.

Lower confidence seems to be a big factor in prohibiting women from submitting job applications. Sandberg cites that, on average, women will apply for jobs when they met 100% of the criteria. In comparison, men will apply once they meet only 60% of criteria. This is a shocking difference. It is clear that women need to become more inclined to opt for the stretch goal, and the first way to achieve this is a shift in mentality. “I’m not ready to do that position” needs to become “I want to do that work and I will learn how by starting.”

My best comparison for this is starting this blog. I did not know how to build a website, but I knew I could learn. It wasn’t until I started the work that I learned how to do it. What started as a stretch goal has become a major source of pride and success in my life.

Keeping Your Hand Up

Men are reaching for opportunities more than women.

Having read Knowing Your Value, where Mika Brzezinski interviews Sandberg, I expected to see a chapter on breaking rules and keeping your hand raised in Lean In. While she was hosting a talk, Sandberg said she would take two more questions. After the two were asked, Sandberg realized she had more time and began to take more from the remaining raised hands. What she didn’t realize was that the women had put their hands down once the “last” question had been answered. While recounting this story, Sandberg cites the striking shock she felt when she realized after that she had unknowingly furthering the gender gap by letting men ask additional questions after the women had put respectfully put their hands down. Sandberg takes this as an opportunity to encourage women to keep their hands raised, her gentle way of encouraging us to go for – make that, ‘demand’ – what we want.


A big part of going for what you want is setting goals. Sandberg recommends having two goals: an 18-month and a long-term. The 18-month goal should be focused on improving yourself, namely learning a new skill. Maybe this means taking a class on video editing, learning Mandarin, or, like me, developing web skills.

The long-term goal is more passion-centered. What is important to you? Do you want to be a world-traveler? Do you want to help people? Do you want to start a family and be at every Saturday soccer game? Do you want to run your own company? Answering these questions and determining what is important to you in the long run will help center your career trajectory and your career path now.


In order to more quickly or easily reach those goals, it might help to have a mentor on the inside. Sandberg starts off this section with a pretty blunt comparison: finding a mentor is the 21st Century version of women finding their Prince Charming. Ouch.

Although harsh, Sandberg is hitting a pretty key point: women are too often dependent on others to make things happen for themselves. Sandberg argues that women look toward mentors to lead them to career success, just as they look toward Prince Charming to lead them to Happily Every After. Instead of striving for a mentor with the hope that success with follow, strive for success and the mentor will follow.

Sandberg argues that finding a mentor should be an organic process. So organic in fact that the words “Will you be my mentor?” never have to be uttered. Only when you demonstrate your growth potential will others become personally invested in your success. Sandberg believe that your ability to take critical feedback and learn new skills will draw potential mentors to you. Read more of my thoughts on this here.

And Don’t Leave Before You Leave

As a mentor to many successful women, one of questions Sandberg is most frequently asked is, “how do you balance your family with your career?” Her answer is “I don’t leave before I leave.”

As we become busier, we naturally look for ways to lighten our load. Unfortunately for women, this often means putting her hand down. She no longer strives for the promotion and starts leaning back.

But what Sandberg is specifically getting at here is that many women are trying to lighten the load on their plate before they have been served. In preparation to enter motherhood, Sandberg fears that women stop striving for that C-Suite position. Knowing that she wants to start a family three or five years down the line, the woman doesn’t apply for the promotion now. As Sandberg puts it, “Don’t leave before you leave” and as I put it, “Work to empty your plate after you’ve been served.”

Make Your Partner a Real Partner

We have made more progress in the workforce than we have in the home.

But at some point or another, we are going to be served. Until men develop the ability to become pregnant, if you and your partner want to conceive a child, the woman (or one of them) will have to take some time off work. Sandberg says the biggest factor into why she has been able to achieve so much career success while birthing and raising two children is because she makes her partner a real partner. She and her husband split household and child-rearing duties as evenly as possible. However, Sandberg’s case isn’t the norm. Typically, if a woman and a man both work full time, the woman does half the amount of housework as the man and three times the amount of childrearing. If fairness isn’t incentive enough, here are two more stats that might encourage you to make your partner a partner: Equal devision of labor leads to a 50% lower divorce rate and a more active sex life.

It is very clear in Lean In that Sandberg does not have all of the answers, but is instead trying to engage the reader to view these gender stereotypes in a new light. Sandberg wants us to ask ourselves why we aren’t and, more importantly, how we can lean in.


How do you think women can better lean in at the workplace? Let us know below.

If you want to read this book but feel that you don’t have the time, her TED talk is a great summary of the key points.



5 thoughts on “Leaning In

  1. jeanette

    i find that ‘fake it till you make it’ is worth gold! It’s based in neurolinguistics programming (NLP) — maybe a topic worth a post at some point??? 🙂


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