Photo and article from Vanity Fair: Sheryl Sandberg is one of those people who attract more attention than they want. If she were a man, no one would think twice about her career: McKinsey consultant, chief of staff to U.S. Treasury secretary Larry Summers, head of one of Google’s biggest businesses, and now chief operating officer of Facebook. Those are the sorts of jobs that people who finish at the top of their Harvard Business School class wind up in. Alas, Sheryl Sandberg is not a man, and so her career is not just a bunch of jobs she happens to have held but a social statement.
Sandberg claims she never really wanted to write a book, that her subject was thrust upon her by the way her own career has been viewed. I believe her. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is a heavily researched manifesto aimed at a single question: Why are so few positions of economic and political power held by women? “The blunt truth is that men still run the world,” Sandberg writes. Just 19 out of all the C.E.O.’s in the Fortune 500 are women. The United States has a female majority, yet its Congress remains 82 percent male. In the most intense arenas of American ambition the situation for women is even worse. There are plenty of women on Wall Street, for instance, but the big firms and the financial risktaking are still dominated by men. (And look how that’s worked out!) In Silicon Valley the woman who gets to power is regarded as a cyborg. If she gets pregnant, it’s genuinely newsworthy.
Obviously, there are all sorts of reasons for the inequity at the top of American life, and Sandberg addresses most of them. But she takes a particular interest in the ways women undermine their own cause. Women tend more than men to view their success as fraudulent, for instance. They give in too quickly to the idea that you can’t have both a career and a family; they fail to take risks they need to take; they are afraid to demand that their husbands do their fair share of the housework; they misunderstand how to cultivate useful relationships with their superiors. After a female subordinate describes to Sandberg what she imagines a corporate mentor to be, Sandberg tells her, “That’s not a mentor. That’s a therapist.”
Some women will be annoyed by Sandberg’s challenge, but I’ll bet most will be thrilled by it. And I suspect at least a few men will read this book and think, Oh no, they’re starting to catch on.