Because I am historically vigilant in my life-is-gendered observations, I was so relieved to have someone other than me point this out. When I worked at the RAND, I was part of several client meetings that were run by my male colleagues although the principal investigator on the project was a female. My macroeconomic theory class at the University of Minnesota (in the non-applied economics department at the university, where the faculty is 8% female), the class was about 60 people, 1/5th of whom were female (applied econ and econ combined). In this competitive yet fairly interactive class, aside from me, only one other woman spoke up once in class the entire semester.
So for me, it was extremely encouraging to read Sandberg's review of academic studies and corporate examples that support what I feel like I've already seen in my hyper-observant feminist life. The Heidi and Howard study experiment heightens what appears to me to be a subtle yet consistent stress for women on the importance of likeability over the importance of success. Here's how the story goes.
Colombia Business School ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace describing a successful venture capitalist with "outgoing personality and vast personal and professional network including powerful business leaders in the technology sector." The professors tested the impact of the name Heidi or Howard on perceptions of this individual. Students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, yet Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi on the other hand was seen as selfish and "not the type of person you would want to hire or work for."
I think the results of this study, among the others reviewed in the book are important to keep in mind in order to purposely overcome our subconscious perceptions of gender. I push the line by calling into question whether gender stereotypes played a role whenever I hear criticisms of individuals being unpleasantly ambitious or confident (and bless my friends for patiently explaining themselves every time). However, Sandberg points out that it does take intentional effort to overcome ingrained perceptions of gender roles, to criticize the "Having it all" working mom stereotype as harried and guild ridden and to laugh at the ridiculousness of Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies.
We can also appreciate the fluency with which Sandberg puts feminism back into the public conversation. She admits that in the past, "we accepted the negative caricature of bra-burning humorless, man-hating feminist and... and in sad irony, reject[ed] feminism to get male attention and approval. In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naively, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore." I think this is an incredibly common perspective and I hope that this book will put a cheery successful new face on the shoulders of feminism. And although she does acknowledge the difficulty of discussing gender without appearing overly defensive, Sandberg's openness to proudly calling herself a feminist and the public dialogue in response to the book have begun to bring gender back on the table.
Frankly, the work-family balance is something extremely important to talk about. I read I Don't Know How She Does It when I was a nineteen year old math major, and had a serious discussion with my Calculus study buddy about how we felt more pressure to think about families in our male dominated department (this friend is now also interestingly pursuing a PhD in Economics).
The book does come from an outwardly privileged perspective (we can't all hire nannies) and has the occasional shortcomings as a feminist (breastfeeding is actually not frightening). And while I am in favor of inclusive definitions of feminism, the emphasis on dedicating oneself to her career does seem to simplify movement. Kate Losse at Dissent Magazine criticizes the obvious corporate benefit of a movement of leaning in.
However, when it comes down to it, Sandberg hits the nail on the head: the reason there aren't more women in leadership positions is because there aren't more women in leadership positions. While it is true that institutions and the structure of the workplace impose obstacles for women in academia, executive roles, legislature, corporations and coaching soccer teams, Sandberg proposes that institutional changes will come more fluidly when women are themselves in leadership positions. As uncomfortable as it is to admit to, I think she's right that we need to step up to the game ourselves:
We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize messages that it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men.
We move closer to the goal of true equality when more women throw off the stereotypes of being pleasant and submissive ourselves, by applying for promotions, raising our hand, asking for raises and advocating for ourselves at work and in life.
Hat tips: KSM, CBT, JCH