Lean in: powerful women executives give their opinions and advice

Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" has topped Amazon and New York Times best-seller lists for weeks.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” has topped Amazon and New York Times best-seller lists for weeks.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, has topped both the New York Times and Amazon best-seller lists for weeks. In it, she argues that women hold few leadership roles in part because of their own internalized fear and doubt. She urges women to “lean in”: accept responsibilities without hesitating, promote themselves, and not “leave before you leave,” her catchphrase for bowing out to have kids long before considering pregnancy. Some critics have deemed the elite and fortunate Sandberg an unfit mouthpiece for all women; others argue that she doesn’t intend to be. Here, a more specific response: some of the city’s most successful working women add their personal experiences to the conversation.

THE REACTION

Tocci: I “leaned in” instinctively because I can be an unabashed self-promoter and I like to be in charge. I don’t think it’s necessary to lead in an arrogant way and I think that is what Sandberg meant when she commented about the importance of being likable. My observation is that women aren’t raised to lead. There have been thousands of years of instruction about being “ladylike” and absolutely no guidance on being the person in charge. I took Sandberg’s point to be that now that women CAN be the person in charge, they should be conscious of moving toward that goal and not be afraid of the opportunity.

Lebenthal: “Leaning in” means going for all the challenges openly. There isn’t a teacher monitoring you and grading. It’s every person for him or herself.

White: I can’t profess to having “leaned in.” I’m not into actively promoting myself. My nature is to let my work speak for itself. Fortunately I’m with an organization that has fully supported that.

THE EXPERIENCE

DeCesare: While I was on maternity leave, a colleague of mine was promoted. When I asked my VP why I was not even called about the position, the response was, “Well, you just had twins.” I realized I had to have a conversation with both myself and my boss about my goals. I let him know that indeed I did want to apply for the job, and that being a mother made me an even smarter and more dedicated worker. The fire storm this ended up causing changed the way the company handled women in the workplace. Also, I got the job.

Tocci: When my career took off, my husband and I made an important decision together that he would be the stay-at-home parent for the most critical years of our son’s childhood. I realize we were lucky to have that option. It was always women who would say to me, “Don’t you feel bad traveling and being so busy with a young child at home?” My response was “I’d feel worse if my son saw that I wasn’t able to work out how to pursue my passion.”

Anvik: In one of the worst economies we’ve seen in decades, I left a great job at an agency with summer Fridays, bonuses, health care and a guaranteed paycheck to launch a start up. I didn’t listen to any advice (male or female) that perpetuated the idea that women should play it safe. I knew I would make it, and that if by some chance I didn’t, I was smart enough to figure out a Plan B.

THE ADVICE

Lebenthal: Think of your goal as a destination on a map: Without knowing where you are going, it will be impossible to get there.”

A. White: At times I have “leaned out”, choosing family over work. I skipped traveling to an important internal meeting last fall to go to my son’s first day of kindergarten. I really needed to be at that meeting. Working mothers face these trade-offs all the time, and they can be extremely difficult.

C. White: I have to work, which sometimes means that family needs to arrange itself around my work. However, I’ve never felt any significant guilt about that. We all benefit.

Anvik: A female executive, when I started my first job, said, “I want to help you be amazing. You make me look good, I move up, and you move up. Then the next girl that comes in, we’ll help her too. This is not competition; it’s cooperation.”


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