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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg


Note: This is our first time reviewing our Book of the Month directly on the site. The format will likely change in the future depending on the book selection. Let us know what you think!

Going into this book, I honestly wasn’t expecting to like it or get much out of it. I really don’t know why. I may have heard a bit of negative criticism here and there, but overall I’d say the book was positively received by most audiences. But by the end, I was genuinely impressed by what was Sandberg was sharing with us (it also reaffirmed many of my own thoughts and opinions I have about careers and family life, which was pleasant surprise).

Today we’re going to take it chapter by chapter and I’ll share my thoughts on each with you (while trying not to do too much of a book summary, forgive me if I go on for too long) and then you can share your thoughts with me in the comments to discuss. Let’s go.

Introduction: Internalizing the Revolution 

One thing that stood out to me in this chapter was the whole pregnant-woman-parking situation. I think Sandberg overlooked the fact that most of us don’t actually think about solutions to problems we don’t have. Even she as a woman admitted to never thinking that pregnant women needed reserved parking until she was pregnant. I feel she underestimates lower level women in this respect because she says that other pregnant women “must have suffered in silence” (p 4). This may have been the case (and honestly who knows because it seems she didn’t look into it), but she already said that parking was limited, so maybe these pregnant women weren’t even parking. Perhaps they were taking public transportation, carpooling, or having someone drop them off at the front door and thus not needing special parking.

She cites a 2011 Kinsey report on the differences in how men and women are promoted – men are promoted based on potential, women on past accomplishments. After this point, she says that women are hindered by barriers within themselves, and while I agree to a point, ridding ourselves of the internal barriers will not change hiring practices. Equality shouldn’t mean that women need to continue to prove themselves more so than men be promoted. It should mean that we are all being evaluated on the same criteria.

The Leadership Ambition Gap

The main takeaway for me from this chapter was that women aren’t taught to be ambitious. I think this starts with us. We should spend less time and energy focusing on why we weren’t taught to be ambitious in our careers and put more of our time and energy into encouraging our peers, mothers, sisters, and daughters to be ambitious, to not fear failure, to not shy from criticism, to not settle, and to reach for their dreams. If we are all encouraging each other and changing our mindsets in the present, what could we change in the future?

Sit at the Table

This chapter made me a little more fond of Mrs. Sandberg. I find it reassuring that even someone who is so experienced is still afraid of not knowing the answer. She, and many others, say to fake it ’til you make it and I absolutely couldn’t agree more. She also lets us in on a little secret here: Everyone feels like a fraud. Maybe not all the time, but we all at some point don’t feel qualified for a position or responsibility. But you know what we do? We fake it and everything turns out okay in the end. And if it doesn’t, we live and learn.

Success and Likeability 

Sandberg gives many examples here of how men don’t care if people like them, but women intertwine success and likeability. We fear that if people don’t like us, we won’t be successful. My initial thoughts on this stem from the high school environment. In my experience, girls are typically seen as more successful when they are popular – aka well-liked by the student body. Boys, however, are successful when they score a touchdown, but are still liked even if they don’t (you’ll get ’em next time).

Getting bogged down in worrying about whether people like you or not will hold you back. We shouldn’t let someone fuming about us in a corner stop us from reaching our goals. After all, if they have a problem with you, it’s their problem, not yours.

It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder

This metaphor is perfect. My personal favorite line from the entire chapter is: “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration” (p 53). I love it because it encourages us to reframe our career goals into something much more fluid. We are allowed to change our paths, we could backtrack, we can go up or down or sideways, we can go to the top and back to the bottom, and we don’t have to follow the person in front of us.

I also think this chapter is full of fabulous career advice, including:

  • take opportunities that come your way and let them have an impact on you
  • if you aren’t happy somewhere, whether it’s for career reasons or personal ones, you don’t have to stay on that path
  • measure companies by their potential for growth
  • a valuable employee is one who concentrates on the results and impact of their work
  • focus on figuring out what you can do for a company
  • put less emphasis on career level and more on what you can learn from a particular role

Seniority and power will not just come to you, they are earned through your experiences and impacts over the course of your career. You leave an impression on everything you do, and everything you do leaves an impression on you. Shouldn’t we make it a positive one?

Are You My Mentor?

Finding a mentor isn’t something you can force. It is a process that happens organically by those who are genuinely interested and invested in what they are doing. On page 78, Sandberg brings up a point that we here at GenTwenty noticed recently: your performance is assessed by what other people see you doing and not what you actually do. It seems like a simple concept, but to me, it feels incredibly profound. What do you think?

Additionally in this chapter, she discusses honesty and communication in the workplace. Feedback is a common theme throughout the book – Sandberg wants it and she wants it honestly. She talks about a situation at Google (p 87) where she and a male colleague were frustrated by a female employee. She reports that her approach (expressing that she feels second-guessed and prevented from making progress by said employee) was a fruitless endeavor. But her male colleague invited the female employee to dinner and simply asked her, “Why do you hate me?”

Sandberg attributes his results to the method, however, the entire time I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think, maybe it’s because Sandberg is woman and as a woman, the employee felt differently towards her than she did to Sandberg’s male counterpart. Did anyone else feel the same way here?

Don’t Leave Before You Leave

This chapter didn’t go where I thought it was going to go, but I’m glad it went where it did. I think we are definitely taught that women can’t be good mothers and have successful careers. It’s usually one or the other, a choice many women who have children are asked about. The cost of childcare is often times one of the biggest contributing factors in deciding on whether or not the mother would work during her children’s younger years, but what about women who actually want to be their children’s caregivers? At that point you have to make a choice – give up your career for 4-5 years or let someone else have your kids for 8+ hours a day. Where do you stand on this?

I think the perspective of thinking of the cost of childcare as an investment into your family’s future is wonderful. But I am still curious to know if women who wanted to stay home are happier that they did later in life as opposed to women who wanted to stay home but didn’t. If anyone has anymore information on the topic, please share!

Make Your Partner a Real Partner 

So, within three pages of this chapter, I felt like I suddenly realized why Sandberg had so much time and energy to invest in her career: she and her husband spent the week apart (he lived in L.A. from Monday to Thursday and she lived in the Bay Area all the time, in case you missed it). If I spent four days a week away from my husband, I’d be extremely productive (and probably more invested in my career) as well.

The main point for me in this particular chapter is that your partner should care about your ambitions and goals as much as they care about their own, and vice versa. You should both be invested in each other’s success and share the same values.

Did she miss or overlook any major points in this regarding your relationship and your career?

Another big point here is maternity leave. She throws out a lot of statistics (which I personally love), but in general, most companies don’t offer much in the way of maternity or paternity leave and even then many people are looked down upon for taking advantage of these programs for new parents. The real question I have here is why? Is it really that difficult for a company and/or team to give an employee some time to be with their new addition to their family?

I really don’t know and would love to have some more light shed on this topic.

The Myth of Doing It All

I’m really, really glad she says none of us can have it all because I truly don’t believe we can. I think we can all do our best, but we have limits to where and what we can allocate our resources to. Even if you had all the time in the world to dedicate to the task at hand, things still wouldn’t be perfect so clearly the answer here is to give up on the idea of the “perfect” life.

Her definition of success is: “making the best choices we can… and accepting them” (p 139). Do you agree?

Women are also judged more harshly by others than men are when it comes to having it all. It seems men are allowed to have a career and a family while women are seen as slacking in one area or another if they have both. How can we change this?

After reading this chapter, I feel like we should banish the word “success” all together. If we are truly doing the best we can, we are still pressuring ourselves to make the best choices possible, and if we don’t, then we aren’t successful. We don’t always know what the best choices are, so how can we base our success on whether or not we picked the right thing?

Let’s Start Talking About It 

The way to resolve any conflict is to have a conversation about it. So here are my questions for you:

  • Are you aware of gender bias in your workplace?
  • Do you think your company makes and effort to treat men and women equally?
  • Is mentioning anything feminine (i.e. plans to have children) taboo in your office?
  • How are you gender biased?
  • Do you describe yourself as a feminist?

What other questions are relevant here?

Working Together Towards Equality

I agree with the thought process of needing more women in leadership positions. It leads to more equal representation throughout the workforce. However, I think we also need to simultaneously encourage women need to support other women. We need to eliminate qualifiers from our mindsets and be supportive of everyone’s choices. Sandberg wants to work to eliminate social norms and I absolutely agree. But how? What do you think we can do in our daily lives to incite change?


Sandberg makes many valid points here, but I also think she glosses over issues that are extremely relevant to women in lower levels of employment. Jobs aren’t so easy to come by these days and many families struggle to make ends meet even with two incomes. It’s not fair to all women to say that she is only addressing women who have the means and opportunities to access leadership positions because that doesn’t promote equality within the female gender, it only perpetuates existing structures.

Another thought I had throughout the book was that Sandberg was often on the lucky end of happenstance. She continuously made connections throughout her life, especially early on, that were put together by other people or happened just because she was in the ladies room at the right time. Many, many people are not so lucky to have these chances come their way. Especially when there are thousands of applicants for one internship position – there is only so much leaning in you can do to make things happen for yourself.

In summary…

At the end of the day, it’s really all about changing our thought processes. We all – men and women alike – have to make a conscious effort to promote equality in the workplace. Leaning into your career is also about leaning into your life. It’s having an opinion and sharing it whether you are afraid to or not. Leaning is sitting at the table. It’s investing yourself wholeheartedly in what you are doing – whether it’s your career, motherhood, volunteer work, an unpaid internship, etc. It’s making the choices that you feel are right for you, regardless of what anyone else might say.

What did you get out of Lean In? We would love for you to share your thoughts and discussion points with us!

About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.


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