Book review | ‘Lean In’ asks why gender inequality persists


The long-awaited, hotly debated and fresh-off-the-press book “Lean In,” written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a manual for women and men, novice and experienced professionals, feminists and non-feminists alike. This is a book that has re-energized a national movement for women, encouraging them to lean into their careers and step into positions of power. Sandberg has arguably embarked on the most ambitious mission to reframe the conversation of gender inequality since the launch of Ms. magazine in 1971. In “Lean In,” Sandberg argues that the status quo for women is not good enough and that women need to demand more until true equity is reached. She explains that men still run the world and laments, “I’m not sure that’s going so well.”

Sandberg’s debut as a feminist advocate began with a 2010 TED talk where she first illustrated her “lean in” message. She furthered her success and popularity after a 2011 Barnard commencement speech that also went viral. Sandberg’s book has been at the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list for the third consecutive week since its release in early March. “Lean In” is stirring quite the controversy among women – and men – in the United States. Critics of the book are quick to dismiss her arguments simply because she is rich, powerful and privileged. But while Sandberg cannot relate to all of her readers, she has important information to share.

Sandberg comes across in this book as smart, funny, likable and honest. Speaking about difficult issues like the wage gap between women and men, or stereotypical expectations based on gender, Sandberg invokes emotion and personal stories to make her point. She bravely writes, “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.”

One chapter in the book addresses an “ambition gap” we see between women and men. She explains how Warren Buffett once stated that the reasons for his success were that he was competing with only half of the population. “A truly equal world,” Sandberg writes, “would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” To illustrate the point of why this hasn’t changed, Sandberg cites a statistic that when men and women remember their performance, men remember it as slightly better, while women remember it as slightly worse. When men are asked why they succeed professionally, they attribute it to their own core skills, while women give the credit of their professional success to working hard, help from others and luck.

Sandberg explains that women systematically reach for fewer opportunities than men, which perpetuates the cyclical trend of fewer women holding positions of power. Women have held fewer than 25 percent of the top jobs in America for the past ten years, and there has been little progress or change in this statistic. Even women working low-wage jobs or about to start their first job can learn a lesson from “Lean In.” By learning to negotiate a starting salary, ask for a raise, sit at the table and lean in to their careers, women can drastically change the system of inequity that plagues our nation.

Chelsea Clinton eloquently summarized the book, writing, “‘Lean In’ poses a set of ambitious challenges to women: to create the lives we want, to be leaders in our work, to be partners in our homes and to be champions of other women.”