Sheryl Sandberg has a Harvard degree, helped grow Google and today is Facebook's Chief Operating Officer. She also has sparked a movement congregating daily at LeanIn.org, named for her book, Lean In.
So, what's with the title?
Sure, there's the glass ceiling. Men dominate C-suites and proverbial boys' clubs still exist. But Sandberg asserts an epidemic is perpetuated by women themselves and must be stopped.
"We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small," Sandberg writes. "By lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in."
We've all heard of people leaning to the left or the right — but in?
Sandberg calls on women to pour their all into whatever goal they choose — oh, and make sure you marry someone who will do half the housework.
("That's right, honey. You just open up the washing machine like this and then you... lean in...")
Having the advantage?
Stephanie is 34 and an account executive in the TV broadcasting industry — a career she balances with parenting two young boys. She calls Sandberg's book "a great 'how to' if you subscribe to [Sandberg's] same values and morals."
"But that comes with a lot of sacrifice on the personal side that many women are not comfortable with," Stephanie adds, pointing out that Sandberg has had more opportunity than most, which makes some of her experiences less than relatable.
Advantage is a nonissue for more than 116,000 people who have joined the Lean In movement online, responding to Sandberg's call to spend less time talking about what women can't do and more time talking about what they can do. And that "have it all" aspiration? Sandberg calls the coining of that phrase "perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women."
Advocating for change
Jaclyn is 26 and recently earned a promotion to manager at a FORTUNE 100 company. Self-described as "incredibly ambitious," she embraced Sandberg's Lean In movement early on.
She says others are joining the internalized revolution because "there's finally a meaningful dialogue happening about women in the workplace. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, it's important [that] people are taking notice and advocating for change."
Throughout her book, Sandberg uses compelling scenarios that illustrate leaning back instead of in, explaining her point by describing what not to do. She posits, what would you do if you weren't afraid? She counsels women, "don't leave before you leave," describing the all-too-female trend of hypothesizing how life-changing events such as marriage or motherhood may impact their career and adjusting by leaning back — perhaps before they even have a boyfriend.
Picking perfect partners
And, what about finding that all-important, chore-sharing partner?
Jaclyn, single and in a serious relationship, cites Sandberg's view that choosing the right partner is "the single most important career decision that a woman makes." But she's been studying relationship dynamics long before Sandberg's book was published. "My mentors today reinforce that opinion time and time again," she explains. "Their husbands or partners make achieving balance possible."
Does the millennial generation need Sandberg's stern talking-to about partner selection?
"I do feel that men my age as a whole are more likely to support women's careers than previous generations," Jaclyn says. "They've watched their moms achieve professional success and raise a family at the same time."
Conquering fear, silence
Undoubtedly, the millennial generation of men also watched their mothers wrestle with sometimes all-consuming stress and fear.
"Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face," Sandberg says. "Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice... and the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter."
Her storytelling includes encouragement and a demand that women help society change how it views women by speaking up for themselves more often.
Stephanie particularly relates to Sandberg's plea that women take pride in achievements and tout them. "I've been guilty of [staying silent], and I agree it's important to market yourself and give yourself credit," she said. "It's something I'm going to take away from her philosophy."
Sandberg concedes women who laud their accomplishments risk backlash — but she calls it necessary, while shaking her head at women's tendency toward backbiting.
Jaclyn agrees. "Imagine how much more collaborative and inspiring our work — and lives — would be if we spent more time lifting each other up in support."