In 2011, DC native and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg delivered a rousing commencement address at Barnard that challenged the all-female graduates to close the professional leadership gap between men and women. “So go home tonight and ask yourselves: What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” she concluded. “And then go do it.”
Her stirring book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, is what Sandberg has done. This electrifying work—which grew out of a 2010 TED Talk the author gave in Washington—warmly delivers sharp insight gained from experience at top institutions, including Google, the US Treasury, the World Bank, and Harvard Business School.
Lean In, the author concedes, is “sort of a feminist manifesto.” Citing numerous studies, Sandberg describes how and why women miss out on top positions. She points out, for example, that likability and success are positively correlated for men but negatively for women and that inequality at home impedes women in the workplace. “The gender wars need an immediate and lasting peace,” Sandberg writes. “True equality will only be achieved when we all fight the stereotypes that hold us back.”
This book, packed with anecdotes from the author’s life, will speak to anyone suffering professional woes. Proposing a solution to nearly every concern she raises, Sandberg emboldens readers of both sexes to start turning their day job into their dream job: “I would not suggest that anyone move beyond feeling confident into arrogance or boastfulness. . . . But feeling confident—or pretending that you feel confident—is necessary to reach for opportunities.”
Sandberg is often funny and colorful. Paraphrasing an old quote about Ginger Rogers, she says negotiating can be like “trying to cross a minefield backward in high heels.” Later, she notes that one downside to thinking of your career trajectory as a ladder is that “[o]n a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above.”
She’s a master of the kind of provocative one-liners that earn nodding, pensive “hmm’s” at public gatherings. One of her best: “We cannot change what we are unaware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”
This article appears in the March 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.