Leaning in a bit more

So here’s the thing – the hype and hoopla about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book about women and work “Lean In” made me dread picking it up. But after reading most of it (it’s been a busy week) I reckon she’s done a good job.

Not that I agree with a few of the themes. There’s still that very US self-help style tendency to exhort women to just use their initiative a bit more and take that proactive stance and some of the barriers will start to dissolve. And yes, Sandberg is a super-achiever which means her stumbles and mistakes (a few are detailed although hardly major issues) have been greeted with a very different response to those of us who are mere mortals.

That said, there’s a decent amount of context setting for many of the core issues women face – the double standards, the lack of recognition for effort, the childcare bind, the onus to be caring and sharing. And Sandberg sounds like she has much higher levels of self-awareness and humility than many men of similar status would exhibit or acknowledge.

There’s just a niggle (and this is addressed by Sandberg) that much of the advice she gives women is about ultimately conforming to pretty traditional ways of operating in business hierarchies – even in groovy places like Facebook. You have to survive and there’s no point telling women to try and overturn the system on their own. But the problem with this kind of book, and advice to women on how to keep smiling through, is it can be quite contradictory. My pet aversion is telling women to take more risks at the same time as telling them to imitate how men work the system. A bit of a tall order, perhaps?

Anyway, worth a read and good on Sandberg for bothering to take the time and the blows from many sides by sticking her neck out. This is not a topic that wins friends but it can influence people and she has lots of clout.

Meanwhile, isn’t it amazing how the PM is now being regularly criticised for coming out fighting in the face of terrible polls and leadership rumblings? Some of our pundits sound quite irate that she hasn’t understood she should meekly stand aside. After all, that’s what a male leader would do, wouldn’t he? Not in a pink fit.  

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