Over the coming months, Dr. Donnelly and I (Dr. Hinson) will be reviewing and critiquing books written by women and for women, opening discussions about women, work, and leadership in a variety of fields and from a range of perspectives. As a proudly women focused company, Abbey Research hopes to engage with and help facilitate some of the more important conversations happening about women in our worlds.
First up is Sheryl Sandberg's #1 National Best Seller, so let's jump in!
Writing from her position of COO at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg aims to illustrate ways in which women can effect leadership change in their work environment. Starting with the premise that the revolution for true equality has stalled, Sandberg claims that her reflections focus on the internal barriers that "hold women back from achieving positions of power." She does recognize in her opening chapter that her perspectives come from a particular position of privilege (an upper-class, white woman working for a progressive Silicon Valley tech giant) and states that her book is geared toward women "fortunate enough to have choices about how much and when and where to work."
I have to admit that this opening remark gave me some measure of pause. As a professional, working woman, who has grown up hearing the workplace stories of family members, friends, and colleagues, and knowing that only a few of them would be considered in that position, I was skeptical about how much of Sandberg's advice I would find applicable.
However, the major takeaways from the book are broadly generalized enough that any woman reading it might be able to make some connections to her own work environment. One of her more accessible chapters is advice on how we need to consider the professional world as a jungle gym as opposed to a ladder because "you can only go up and down on a ladder, but jungle gyms offer a more creative exploration." In using this metaphor, she states that women need to be more open to taking risks in their careers, and that we should not wait for power to be offered (again, many women in different positions cannot afford to take risks).
Her chapters on balancing work and family life again came from her unique position of privilege and I had a difficult time identifying with how her and her husband navigated starting a family. But her position that men, in whatever capacity, need to do more to support women at home and at work so that they can advance into higher level positions, was well made.
In terms of leadership, there are some valuable parts to her arguments. She openly discusses her struggles in bringing gender stereotypes and inequality into open discussion, and advises starting those conversations into order to educate colleagues. These conversations will certainly be more challenging for women not in her position, something which she does not necessarily reflect on. She concludes with rather lofty aims of ending the power of gender norms to dictate how men and women behave, but all change has to begin somewhere. In recognizing the work of the strong and determined women that have come before us, she also rightfully reiterates that we have to be "dissatisfied with the status quo."
The book is cohesive and an easy read, but if you'd rather engage with a distillation of her main points, Dr. Donnelly would also recommend Sandberg's TED talks.
Stay tuned for our next review and feel free to contact us for any comments or recommendations!