Why I'm willing to listen to what Sheryl Sandberg has to say

Marissa Mayer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, now Sheryl Sandberg. The conversation about women and their careers just keeps gaining momentum.

Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook, has a new book that is hitting a Barnes and Noble near you today. Her book called "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" has received a lot of buzz, some positive, some negative. Controversy sells books, as luck would have it, and it has already hit number one on Amazon. Lean In is also an online community, launched last week, with over 40,000 facebook likes in its first week. From the Lean In website:

"The book Lean In is focused on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and changing the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do. LeanIn.Org is the next chapter."

With colleagues at our annual Women in Medicine and Science
dinner. Do we need to lean in?
Most of the negative commentary prior to the book's release has centered on the fact that Sheryl Sandberg speaks from a place of privilege. Harvard educated, chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and one of the people credited with putting Google on the map (and she is only 43) -  she and her husband are billionaires. Does that mean she doesn't have the right to speak up and encourage women to raise their hands and take a seat at the table? She certainly won't speak for every woman, and she has resources many working women do not.

But she has succeeded by working hard and she she learned some valuable lessons along the way (she almost took Facebook's initial job offer as is, until her husband told her she had to counter offer. I did this with my current job and still regret it). And many see her manifesto as putting all the responsibility on women, when public policy and coorporations have not done enough to enable women, particularly working mothers.

I admit I was very skeptical when I first started hearing the buzz about this book. But Sandberg is my age and a product of the same influences and messages I had growing up. We both grew up with the benefits of Title IX, and with the message that we could be or do anything we desired. And yet, Sandberg is saying women and young girls still don't fully believe that message. We don't have the confidence and self-power to embody those ideals. I'm the first to admit I can always use more coaching in my professional life. My book has been on order for a couple weeks now and should be in the mail.

Perhaps the biggest reason I am willing to listen to what Sandberg has to say, is that she seems truly compelled to share her message. I've criticized Marissa Mayer for not wanting to take up the cause for working mothers and for being a reluctant role model. And now here is a successful woman with an already full plate in her career and family - and she is putting her whole self into this process (not for the money, clearly, and it is a big risk if only for the fame). My impression is that Sheryl Sandberg feels strongly about the need for women to lean in and focus on the one thing we can control in our careers - ourselves.

To be continued...


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