Have you heard of Sheryl Sandberg? I hope so, because currently, the whole world is talking about her.
Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, has been blazing trails with her newly released and debut book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Through her book, the high profile businesswoman has reinvigorated and reignited the feminism movement.
Lean In provides a practical guide to the modern woman who is doing the usual – juggling both the workplace and family responsibilities, however instead of blaming men for the woes of women like many traditional feminists, she identifies the things that she considers women are doing wrong themselves, and encourages them to stand up for themselves and go after what it is they really want.
A new brand of feminism is now being advocated and driven by Sandberg, who encourages professional women to “lean in” instead of “opt out” of their careers. While she is quick to acknowledge the age-old stereotypes (such as leadership qualities in women being labelled as bossy and aggressive, where the equivalent behaviour in men is celebrated and rewarded), she raises the point that women need to learn how to withstand criticism. The main problem, according to Sandberg, is the importance people place on women being nice. Women want to be liked so aim to appease but they similarly suffer from what she calls “imposter syndrome”, where women feel fraudulent when praised for their accomplishments. In response to this, she doesn’t shun the idea of women crying at work, thereby exposing and expressing their feminine side. Similarly, she encourages women to grow their careers and their lives, while balancing the challenges of home life and motherhood.
While statistic-heavy (women earn 57 per cent of the undergraduate degrees in America but hold only 14 per cent of executive officer positions at corporations and 18 per cent of the seats in congress), the book offers readers practical advice on how to communicate effectively, how to self-negotiate, how to self-educate and how to split duties in the home, all mixed in with knowing how to achieve big picture goals. The focus is less on whether women can “have it all”, but more on how they can and should have the equality they’re entitled to. This modern day manifesto therefore advocates the position that having more women in leadership positions is beneficial for everyone, not just women.
What’s interesting in this debate however is that Sandberg has copped heavy criticism from her detractors, who point to the fact that as an exceptionally successful business woman, she has the financial liberty to hire nannies, have meals cooked for her and cleaners to do the dirty work for her (she has actually refused to answer questions from journalists about the hired help in her life). According to her denigrators, she knows as much about being a working mother as a socialite. Haters say she solidified her role at the top of the business food chain thanks to the help of men in high places (Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, the Clinton administration, Google Chief Execs, Mark Zuckerberg etc).
Sandberg, however, is intimately aware of the inconsistencies in her own story. That fact doesn’t get her down though. Expanding on the book, she is the pioneer behind Leanin.org, her foundation and peer support group that encourages women to come together through monthly meetings share their experiences and lift each other higher. Leanin.org seeks to change the conversation from what women can’t do, to what they can do. It transforms the negative into a positive. Supporting women in three ways: community, education and circles, Leanin.org is a fantastic initiative that will build strength amongst women and help bind them together to achieve more. Check out Leanin.org today – both women and men have a lot to gain from this movement.