Ben Jaques-Leslie's Reviews > Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
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it was ok

Lean In... Oh Lean In... the book of the moment. There are some large complaints about this book. That it should be men who change their behavior at work. That this book undermines the need to make structural changes in work to diminish barriers to women. That women are to blame for the inequality at work. All of these are important, but they aren't what the book is about. This is a book about how women can change their individual behavior to help them succeed in business as it currently exists. Maybe this isn't the best way to reach equality and maybe it's not the most important thing, but that is what the book is about. And, to be fair, Sandberg does talk about the need for structural and cultural change as well as that men should change their behavior. The author talks about how getting women into positions of leadership will help to change structure and culture, which is probably true.

What bothered me about this, it the author's blindness to her own privilege. She casually notes that she has a nanny. She talks about how, when she was a new mother, she and her husband had two year period where he worked in LA and she in the bay. It was resolved when he became CEO of SurveyMonkey and moved the company from Portland to San Francisco in order to be closer to his family. (Uprooting or firing how many people in this process!) She shares an anecdote about taking her children with her on the eBay private jet. It's not that she took her children with her, but that a non-elite would have to pay for two plane tickets for his or her children to do something. Wealth makes a huge difference in constructing a life that balances the desires for a career and a family. She does not appreciate this.

Couple of other thoughts:

1. The book gets more annoying as you read it. It you want the best that it has to offer read the first three chapters, then give up.
2. Sandberg shares an anecdote about a friend who devised a test to see whether a guy was worthy to date. Step 1: cancel first date for a made up business meeting and see how he re-acts. If he is not bothered, then proceed to date. Step 2: ask him to come to Sao Paulo for a date. Both of these are designed to test how accommodating the man is to her career. Yes, this is a good way to start a relationship, by testing the person and lying. Also, a date in Sao Paulo! Another example of Sandberg's complete obliviousness to wealth.
3. Last thought. Towards the end of the book Sandberg is trying to say that the choice to stay at home with children is as valid as staying in work. The main way that she makes this point is by saying that women who stay at home can volunteer in all of these different ways, benefiting the world. Which sugests to me that justification for a personal decision is only valid to the degree that there is some social benefit. I'm committed to trying to improve the world, but doing that makes me happy. People are justified in making decisions that increase their joy in life. It doesn't matter how much their decision benefits society. For most of us there is some overlap between doing good in the world and feeling good about that, but there doesn't have to be. The decision to stay home or work is justifiable to the degree that it is the right decision for the individual.

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Reading Progress

April 7, 2013 – Started Reading
April 7, 2013 – Shelved
April 13, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I appreciate this review. I've heard about the book but haven't read it and have some misgivings about it based on what I've heard. It is helpful to hear your opinion.

Further thoughts on your last point: I believe that raising compassionate, conscientious children is one of the most beneficial things for the world that a person can possibly do. Raising good children is as "valid" as going to work without doing anything extra on top of it at all. And for pete's sake, what about all the women who work at jobs that are actually _harming_ the world, like for companies that produce toxic chemicals or exploit unskilled workers?

I feel like this book would aggravate me! Maybe I will take your advice and just read the first three chapters.


message 2: by Zack (new)

Zack Whoa...I was just about to leave a comment amounting to what Lisa wrote in paragraph two, but I see I no longer need to. Seconded, I guess. Good review, dude.


message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben Jaques-Leslie To the writers' credit, this is a really quick and easy read. If you want to get worked up and irritated I recommend reading the whole thing, but I think that the good points come early on. Thanks for reading my review former roomies!


message 4: by Maida (new) - added it

Maida This review was soooooo helpful. I was going to read it. Now, not so sure. I'm all about living a good life but i work very hard for mine and the most extravagant date I will take a guy on is an NBA game! This author may have wrote the book for other top executives and CEOs, not for entry-level, or middle management. Maybe I'll read chapters 1-3 now and when I become VP, and can relate, I'll read the rest.


Cameron Maida-- this review is true in my opinion, but there's good stuff in the book as well. Definitely read it and decide for yourself! I completely disagree about only reading the first three chapters. Those were actually the ones that seemed more obvious to me, and I liked the later chapters that suggest what can be done about these problems.


Saira A nice summary of concerns, with just one point with which I disagree -- she does quite often state the caveats about her privilege and resources. Surprisingly so, in fact. Although she didn't put it before each story (the Sao Paolo story, especially!) I thought she balanced her personal stories quite well. I also happen to disagree that this is a work book, maybe that's why I give her greater leniency. Reads like a memoir, and in that way, I enjoyed it. Still, thanks for your thoughtful review!


message 7: by Pat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pat Maxwell Ben, as a woman in a man's world who wants to succeed at something I want to hear from a woman who has succeeded at something. In a man's world, I have no idea of how to change men. I can only change myself and get together with women who wish to do the same.


Shirleen Shiao I completely agree with you, and thank goodness for your review because everyone seemed to love her book or think it was phenomenal. I, on the other hand, find it very insulting that Sandberg consistently indulges in her own smarts and all the opportunities that she had been given and seems slightly naive in suggesting that all women share her reservoir of resources and achievements. In fact, the whole book can be summed up in one phrase that you used: "The author's blindness to her own privilege."

Like you, I got more and more annoyed as I proceeded from chapter to chapter, hoping there was some saving grace at the end but unfortunately there was not. Basically, this book is for privileged women who were born into a well to do family with resources, social and symbolic capital, excellent family support and networks and do not have to worry about anything else except excelling in school and gunning for top management careers while balancing motherhood responsibilities.


Shane Mcparland She does give some advice to men and organizations about being accommodating specifically for women with families or pregnant women in the workplace. The entire book is an insight into how a successful woman sees herself in the workplace (one somewhat privileged woman but still that's more than many men have ever considered). By reading this book as a man, I feel more in touch with the challenges that face women and it makes me want to do something about it.

It's not all telling women they need to improve themselves.


Sharon Podobnik Great review, thanks for the contribution. Agree completely that the book becomes increasingly harder to swallow the deeper you go. I agree with many of the scientific points she makes, but much of the book reads like an extended CV or memoir that no one asked for. And to agree with other points made - she does make caveats regarding her privilege, but I do think she's still oblivious to too much when she casually refers to texts of support from Oprah. Upset by the references to "right time, right place," perhaps, but hard to determine what it was that compellingly propelled her to the top of the mentee lists company after company everywhere.


message 11: by Michael (new)

Michael Liquori I was with you until the libertarian affirmations at the end. (selfishness=justified?)


Marian I think people are too quick to judge her based on her wealth and privilege. She may have grown up in a household with opportunities but she did not always have the same opportunities she has now--she worked for it. She has as much right as anyone to write this book. Besides...inherent in her rising to the top are the privileges she now has. Why blame her? Celebrate it and then aspire to it.


Aglaea Funny, I must have read a different book, because nothing she wrote irritated me nor made me angry.


Laura Great review, I agree completely. She seemed to bring up several good points but had no real resolutions for the issues she brought up, other than "be as lucky alive been in my career and with my mentors". Of course she never says that, but that's the impression I got through reading her anecdotes.


message 15: by Nicole (new)

Nicole This is a brilliant well-constructed review. Other negative/less positive reviews have spoken about her handling of motherhood and having not credited it for being "the most important thing in a women's life" which, to me, is super ridiculous and part of what I didn't like in reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland". But your review highlights a lot of things I know I would have a problems with and I don't really think I'm willing to buy/borrow the book just for the first three chapters… hah


message 16: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Wow you hit this on the nail! Beautiful true review, thank you! I couldn't finish it was painful!


message 17: by Tigbench (new)

Tigbench "That women are to blame for inequality at work."
I strongly disagree! Nearly all of the victims are women! The egocentric machoism is the source of the problem, and always has been. That's like reading The Narrative Life of Frederic Douglas and concluding the negro was to blame for slavery!


Judie Fe Are there other books on this topic you think are better and can recommend? More than anything I'm grateful that this inequality is getting press. While I don't disagree with your assessment of the book, I still think it's worth reading and I hope anyone deciding not to read it based on a couple bad reviews will reconsider. Thank you.


message 19: by Bronzewaals (new)

Bronzewaals Its magnificent :)


Randi Wilson Fascinating, I actually felt kind of overwhelmed with how often the author checked her privilege. In almost every chapter it seemed like she mentioned "I have been extremely lucky/fortunate/privileged." Her stories naturally focus on some pretty lavish circumstances due to her education and success, but I thought she did a great job of mixing in the stories of other women she has known to create a more relatable narrative.


Erica Roberts I don't think she actually is blind to her own privilege. She makes at least a couple of comments about being lucky to be so "fortunate."


Erica Roberts Although I do agree that the "test" for that other woman's date was dumb, since dating shouldn't be about testing the other person.


message 23: by Ali (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ali I am in serious doubt that you read the same book that I did. Throughout the entire book she commented on the privileges she enjoys due to her position and financial security. Also, if you only read the first three chapters then you miss Sandberg delving into more complex issues. Perhaps you were only comfortable with the beginning chapters because those are the equivalent of a crash course in Gender Studies, basic and heard before by everyone. And finally, she repeatedly shows respect to mothers at home. As a stay at home mom, I would have bristled at any attempt to belittle what I dedicate my days to. She simply mentioned that her mother and other mothers found joy in charitable endeavors. Not that all moms need to do that to justify being at home with their children. Perhaps you should read it again with a more open mind. And a highlighter to note every instance she comments on her privileges.


Julianne I appreciate your well-articulated review and point of view. I just finished this book and haven't processed it all yet. My initial thoughts in response to this review are these. I agree that we all have our own understandings/experiences/biases, and Sandberg has them too. I found it heartening when she gave examples of her own biases and lessons she's learned about herself in this regard. She does mention statistics about women in lower socioeconomic levels than herself, so I think she tries to address the face that her truth is different than most. I did find the São Paulo anecdote a bit annoying. I had to go back and reread that part to make sure I read it correctly the first time. The many examples that included aspects of elite/wealth were a bit difficult sometimes. It was hard to identify with some of these.

I think she tried to express respect for all women and men in general, regardless of their lifestyle/career choices. With this type of book you're not going to please everyone, that's for sure! I appreciate her candor and willingness to offer encouragement to others.


As a whole though I find the book to have fulfilled its purpose. It's interesting and a conversation starter. I don't need to pick it apart and agree with everything.



The thing is, she doesn't present her book as a how to, but as a starting point in a discussion.


Carrie Lyu Well said Julianne!


message 26: by Anna (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anna Ugh, the date anecdote was cringe-worthy. I hated every moment of reading it. Why the games and tests? Why not honesty? Also, ditto, it seems Sandberg does not realize the wage gap between her and her readers.


Geanina Ambrus This is a very wide review! I got this book as a present and I read it without taking note of any outside perspective. I share the annoying mood generated after the third chapter and I sense some insecurities behind. As a manager, I wouldn't reveal up to that level if I'd want to inspire but that's just my opinion. And as much as I like my work and enjoy the right to have it, I would never consider it the center of my life. Why should you feel guilty for going home if you are happy with your results overall? These are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind while reading this 'American Bullshit', as I like to name the motivational empty bubbles that I accidentally read sometimes.


Cherry Stewart Geanina I couldn’t agree more! I’m two thirds through the book and there’s a tone in it which really irritates me. I like a previous reviewer haven’t “fully processed it” yet. But my over riding thought most of the time whilst reading it is.... to what end? It seems like a horrendous “chasing of the tail” and living in a very one dimensional lifestyle.... work, work, work.... oh yes... family!


Ivana Boskovic Julianne - you summed up my thoughts well! On my opinion it is interesting that the starting points for the discussion still stay relevant even 5 years after it is published.


Manayer She talks about women in leadership and motivating women to seek leadership positions. Being in a leadership position does give you some kind of privilege. Honestly a truly stupid review.


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