Tomorrow is a big day: March 11, the date that Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book will be released to the public, finally. At long last, the book will not be judged by just its cover, or its author, or the many pundits who have lambasted it often without even flipping a page of the actual book. I had the gift of reading this book pre-release and agree with what the New Yorker said: just read the book. The contents do speak for themselves, really. It is the closest thing I have seen to a feminist manifesto since Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique, which predates my birth by a decade. I am 39 years old. That means that it has been almost fifty years since a woman has written something like this.
It is about damned time for this book.
Clearly, I am a fan -- and that is interesting, because I was not always a Sandberg fan. As someone who has worked in a variety of capacities (full-time, part-time, no-time, management/not, etc.), though nowhere near at Sandberg's level, I felt that she overused the word "should," making her speeches and writings seem prescriptive in a one-way-or-the-highway kind of a way. (Call me libertarian; I do not like when people tell other people what to do.) But recently, I have had a change of heart, especially after reading the many statistics shared in Sandberg's book. Woman should lean in to whatever they are committed. While at work, they should be at work, right up until they are not for whatever reason -- maternity leave, grad school, whatever -- and while they are there, they should sit at the table. They should raise their hands, they should self-advocate, they should stand up for their boundaries, and they should be leading a hell of a lot more companies than they are.
But more than anything, they should stop making problems for other women.
They should stop criticizing a book they have not read based on what they *think* it might say. And even if they disagree, they should have discourse over the subject matter -- not discord.
We undermine ourselves, sisters, when we have to mention the brand of the author's shoes as if somehow her alleged wearing of Louboutins undermines her credibility. I have some Bruno Magli's in my closet; should I have refrained from writing this piece because I have a predisposition for expensive footwear? Would sporting some Toms garner me some more credibility?
It is a sick joke how we tear each other down. It is ridiculous how we critique each other for working, or for not working, for at-home parenting, for bottle-feeding, for having a housekeeper, for not having help, etc. etc. etc. -- or for writing a book while we sit above the glass ceiling we broke as if somehow having "made it" will detract from the message of how Sandberg got there. And it is not just Sandberg we are after: we mock other women in power, such as Marissa Mayer for having a nursery by her office, as if that someone detracts from HELLO! There is a woman CEO of Yahoo! Critics may be right: perhaps no man in the history of time has ever constructed a nursery by his office. But there are plenty of office buildings with in-house daycare, and that is pretty much the same thing. Mayer's nursery is special, sure, but in my opinion, what a fantastic message that sends: I am a mom, and I am a CEO, and those two roles are side-by-side, not in conflict, but in shared space.
And so are we, women of the world. We are in shared space. We have chosen to live our lives differently, but that does not mean in conflict. I have been so very upset at the negative backlash against Sandberg's book because so little of it has served the purpose of advancing the conversation. It is just plain mudslinging and is one of the reasons, in my not-so-humble opinion, that we fail to be taken seriously in our demands for things like flexibility in the workplace. There is a whole lot of whining, a whole lot of noise, and not a whole lot of action.
Sandberg's book is action. It is opening a door, and we choose if we go through it, heeding some of her valuable advice as we do. We choose if we go into our boss's office tomorrow and ask for equal pay for equal work, or for the ability to leave at 4 pm every Tuesday for our kids' softball games, or for that promotion that we have been passed up for by men who at every turn self-advocated better. We can choose to nitpick, or we can choose to hear the overall message in the subtitle "Women, Work, and the Will to Lead."
"Will." That's a funny word. It's an active word that means, per Google, "the faculty by which a person decides to initiate action."
And that is where I feel that Sandberg is most right in her tome. There has been a whole lot of calling for more women in higher-up roles but not a whole lot of pointing out where we might have strayed from the path to get there. There have not been many people suggesting that women need to do things differently ourselves if we want to break the glass ceiling. I do not expect men to hold the elevator door open for me when they are trying to ascend to the same place. Though that fast-track may not be what I personally have chosen to date, if it ever is, I know that I need to get there by my own, yes, will.
Do you have the will to lean in? I do. And I eagerly await tomorrow's news, when I hope to read of massive quantities of Lean In books being devoured by women who are so very hungry for the change we need to make ourselves. This is a giant leap in the right direction for womankind.
Congratulations to Sheryl Sandberg and to the handful of friends appearing in this great book (Lori, Peter, and more) as well as to the team bringing the Lean In foundation to life. It is so very worth it, and I am both grateful and exceptionally excited about yet more great conversations that will transpire from this work. Tomorrow, let us all lean in to a new world for women.