Anyone who makes it to the first page of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In,” without hearing anything about it deserves some sort of prize. Sandberg’s smiling face has been everywhere in the last few weeks. And everyone seems to have an opinion about her book whether they’ve read it or not.
Just in case you’ve missed the hype, however, Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook, the site where a billion of us go to follow our friends’ lives. Before that, she was a vice president at Google, and before that she was chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. In 2011 she was No. 5 on Forbes’ annual World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list, ahead of first lady Michelle Obama. She has two degrees from Harvard and two children.
The book, her first, grew out of a talk she gave in 2010 called, “Why we have too few women leaders.” The 15-minute talk, given at a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference, has been viewed more than 2 million times on the TED website.
Sandberg’s message then and now isn’t one that women will be pleased to hear: Women have stopped making progress at the top of corporate America. Only 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and the number of women at the top has been stagnant for about a decade. If women are ever going to be equally represented, Sandberg argues, they can and should make changes so they don’t hold themselves back.
To that end, Sandberg has written what she says is something of a feminist manifesto, though a very readable one at 172 pages. Her advice for women includes: “sit at the table,” believing in your own abilities and reaching for opportunities; “make your partner a real partner,” finding a life mate who shares laundry duties; and “don’t leave before you leave,” not opting out of opportunities to plan for a family down the road.
No matter what you think of Sandberg’s advice, the research she’s woven together is impressive. (The book’s footnotes run more than 30 pages.) The risk of divorce reduces by half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework. Successful men typically credit their innate qualities and skills, while women credit hard work and the help of others. Success and being well-liked go hand-in-hand for men but not for women.
The book isn’t all data. Sandberg talks to a lot of people and includes her own experiences. She talks about being insecure in college, and she confesses bursting into tears in front of her boss at Google. She acknowledges asking to be removed as “most likely to succeed” from her high school yearbook to ensure she got a date to the prom and being afraid to negotiate her compensation when she joined Facebook.
Part of what Sandberg wants to do is start a conversation – and there she has succeeded. Her book is the kind you read, then hand to a friend and say, “OK, now, what do you think?”