Thursday, March 6, 2014

book club: lean in (the good, the bad and the annoying)

I finished Lean In and it left me with all sorts of opinions, both good and bad. I'm interested to hear your thoughts, even if you didn't read the book!

What I liked: the first half of the book

There's a lot of references to statistics and studies done on gender issues that I found pretty fascinating (even if it was just articulating things I pretty much already knew). For example, the Harold vs. Heidi study: half of a group of people was presented with a description of a successful businessman Harold, while the other half received the same bio but the businessperson was labeled as Heidi. Harold was described as likable and someone you'd want to work for; Heidi was seen as bossy and aggressive.

Ideally, workplaces would celebrate the differences between women and men (or any diverse groups of people, really), but realistically, we know that there are a lot of gender dynamics that people just don't jive with (see the Harold vs. Heidi study). Sheryl points out that the usual way to work around this is for women to act more like men; but instead, women should keep acting like women, but realize how to work the situation to their advantage if they are dealing with someone who might have gender bias (for example, negotiating for a raise without being seen as pushy or demanding, when a man would just be seen as ambitious). I liked her advice and found her outlook about overcoming gender differences refreshing and realistic.

What I didn't like: the second half of the book, and therefore pretty much the book as a whole because that left a seriously annoying lasting impression

After a good solid first half that talks about various gender dynamics in the workplace, personal anecdotes about her career, and interesting research, Sheryl dives into the one issue that always seems to come up when we talk about women in the workplace: how to balance work with having kids. SEVERAL chapters devoted to this subject. I found it ironic that a book that breaks down all these misconceptions and stereotypes about women spends half of its chapters devoted to one of the biggest stereotypes about women: that their main focus is producing children and worrying about family life. There was one section especially that really bothered me: 

"When I was in business school, I attended a Women in Consulting panel with three speakers: two married women with children and one single woman without children. After the married women spoke about how hard it was to balance their lives, the single woman interjected that she was tired of people not taking her need to have a life seriously. She felt that her colleagues were always rushing off to be with their families, leaving her to pick up the slack. She argued, "My coworkers should understand that I need to go to a party tonight - and this is just as legitimate as their kids' soccer game - because going to a party is the only way I might actually meet someone and start a family so I can have a soccer game to go to someday!"

Commence all sorts of eye-rolling. I mean, this issue raised here is more than a gender issue for sure, because it's basically saying work-life balance is just work-kids balance and if you don't have that kids aspect then your excuses aren't legit (clearly, I have strong opinions about this too, but it's another topic for another time). The chapters sandwiching this part, with all the talk about struggling with work-life balance, complaints about needing to find a proper "mate" to support your dreams, whatever just seemed to set back all of the progress that the first half of the book made. Women: lean in, be assertive, seek out positions of power! But remember that our main purpose is to have children and get married, and then whine and gossip about that even in the context of discussing work.

Truly, I really did enjoy a lot of this book, but the second half clearly left a bad taste in my mouth. And it seems I'm not alone, as there are several articles discussing the backlash to the book. What do you think? Does talk about women issues in the workplace always need to be accompanied by discussion of work-life (work-children) balance? What does that say about females as a whole?

No comments:

Post a Comment