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Lean in, and make it big: Why women fall short?

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(Book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead; Author: Sheryl Sandberg; Publisher: Knopf)

Since its release in March, the book by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, named by Forbes as the fifth most powerful woman in the world in 2011, has generated a generous amount of controversy. The book takes a searching look at an entire gamut of reasons for why women have stopped short at achieving leadership roles in the corporate world and tries to show them the light for individual and professional growth. It tells women to give their best at work, and as Anne Marie Slaughter points out in her review in the New York Times, “notwithstanding the many gender biases that still operate all over the workplace, excuses and justifications won’t get women anywhere. Instead, believe in yourself, give it your all, ‘lean in’…” In fact, Sandberg writes that men should be encouraged to “lean in” at home by being equal partners in parenting and housework. Reviewer Barbara Ortutay says in the Columbus Dispatch how the “book’s premise blames women for not rising to top corporate positions at the same rate as men.” To support this premise, Sandberg throws in studies, reports and anecdotes. Her favourite catchphrase in the book is “don’t leave before you leave”.

The gender performance gap, the author points out, is quite glaring. “We’ve ceased making progress at the top in any industry anywhere in the world. In the United States, women have had 14 percent of the top corporate jobs and 17 percent of the board seats for 10 years. Ten years of no progress. In those same 10 years, women are getting more and more of the graduate degrees, more and more of the undergraduate degrees, and it’s translating into more women in entry-level jobs, even more women in lower-level management. But there’s absolutely been no progress at the top. You can’t explain away 10 years. Ten years of no progress is no progress,” she writes.

Sandberg, a 43-year-old former Google executive armed with two Harvard degrees, is aware of the controversy her book has generated. “I understand the paradox of advising women to change the world by adhering to its biased rules and expectations. I know it is not a perfect answer but a means to a desirable end,” she says.

Not all are impressed. In a blistering review in the Guardian Zoe Williams writes: “….this book isn’t offering a new spark for a feminist revolution. Rather, it says, your revolution has stalled – why don’t you try getting what you want my way? Perhaps predictably, this involves a lot of flexibility, and even more smiling.” Lean in, or lean out, it’s your pick!


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