Sunita Shetty, presented and discussed the book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ at Gyaan Adab on April 6, 2014. ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ is a 2013 book written by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, in which she encourages women to make their voices heard at the workplace. She draws attention to the leadership gap when it comes to women and focuses on what women can do to help themselves.
Sunita began by discussing the most commonly critiqued point of the book. Sandberg is blamed for choosing to concentrate only on the “internal obstacles,” the ways in which women hold themselves back. This is unfortunate. As a feminist and a corporate leader, Sandberg seems ideally placed to ask the question that all too often gets lost amid the welter of talk about what women should do, what they should want and how they should behave?
Sunita the discussed various positive aspects of the book which she very interestingly illustrated with examples from her experience as a woman in a power position in a corporate set up. She spoke about how Sandberg insists that we need more women in power. It’s the only thing that will stop the constant questions about whether women can and should be professionally equal to men. We’re all socialized from birth for women to be sweet and nurturing and men to be tough and aggressive, and for women to be valued for the care they give while men are valued for their external accomplishments. It’s not fair to either men or women. We need to openly acknowledge and discuss the pervasiveness and effects of these gender roles so we can move past them.
A very significant and interesting point from the book which Sunita discussed was “Believe in yourself, give it your all, lean in and don’t leave before you leave.” Sandberg says that from a young age, both boys and girls learn that women will have a difficult time balancing work with family, while men can expect to focus on work and have a partner who supports them. As a result, many women limit their careers before they need to, and end up with less satisfying jobs. By the time they do need to pull back temporarily, they are more likely to opt out of their unfulfilling job altogether. So women should lean in before they have kids, so they have more of a choice when the time comes.
Sunita pointed out that her personal favorite pearl of wisdom ‘Lean in’ offers is, “It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder” as it describes the many different paths careers can take, sideways and even downward on their way up. On a ladder, you go vertically up but on a jungle gym, you’re moving where you want to go instead of constantly trying to move in the same direction. The message is to be flexible and pursue great opportunities without worrying whether you are ascending the ladder.
The idealistic bubble which weighs every working woman down, is that of ‘needing to do it all’. Sunita spoke about how Sandberg bursts this bubble and accounted her own struggle of making peace with the ‘Myth of doing it all’. Sandberg has written, having it all is a myth. We all make tradeoffs. But women struggle with the perception, both internal and external, that we need to devote our full attention both to work and to raising their children. We have to accept that parenting is demanding and chaotic, and do whatever we can manage without guilt.
The illuminating talk was followed by a discussion about gender roles, gender biases, sharing household responsibilities and working together towards equality.
Sunita Shetty has over 20 years of work experience. She is currently part of the leadership team at SAS – a company that is the global leader in business analytics. She heads the Marketing Services division for SAS R&D India. Apart from work, she is part of a choir. She is a voracious reader. She is a member of the Poona Club Book Club and has presented book reviews at various forums. She also teaches young adults communications skills as part of the Trinity College of London program. She is married to Chetan Shetty, Senior VP at Extentia Information Technology and has 2 teenage sons.