Audio Books, Leaning In, and Women in the Workplace

Do you ever get around to reading the business and inspirational books you buy?

I am probably not alone with this conundrum, feeling optimistic that I’ll make time to read these worthwhile insights, tips, and inspiration on what these well-known authors have accomplished. Yet to me, business books are not the easy, casual bedtime or weekend reading material that I can handle when my brain is already tired and I just want something fun or thrilling to absorb easily.

Here is a solution that works well for me: Don't read those books; Listen to them!

I was excited when I recently found the audio book “Lean In – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by author Sheryl Sandberg in my local library. The actual book has been laying with the rest of my unread self-help (or “shelf-help”, as my business coaches call it). All it took now was 6 1/2 hours of listening, while multitasking with something else - anything not requiring real brain power works well, e.g. ironing, dusting, cooking. I was sorting out and purging paperwork while enjoying being read to. And mending socks (Seriously. I still do that).

The author is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and previous Vice President at Google. In her book, Sandberg writes about her observations as a top business woman and addresses the fact that – although women and society have made great strides in achieving more gender equality and equal opportunities in the workplace – there remains a great deal of bias, stereotyping, and lack of women's conviction and acceptance that they belong at the table of Boardrooms and C-Suite desks.

Sadly, there is still so much wrong with this picture that I don't even know where to start; I suggest that men and women alike read or listen to this book. I will share just a few points that stood out for me around the two key phrases "lean in" and "sit at the table", which Sandberg refers to throughout.

By leaning in she means, for example, that both male and female managers need to encourage open and compassionate conversation with their female staff or manager, when they sense that a woman is intentionally holding herself back in a lower position and taking on a small business or sales territory, because she already fears – years in advance – that once she becomes a working mother it would become to difficult to continue managing a greater work responsibility. Sandberg urges that women ‘don’t stop working, until you actually stop working’.

On the other hand, men tend not to do that, and this is where Sandberg identifies there is still great societal bias and stereotyping from men AND women. Overall, women are still expected to be the stay-at-home parent or work only part-time after childbirth. If you don’t, you often hear remarks and are made to feel guilty and that you’re a ‘bad mother’. In fact, only 40% of new mothers return to full-time work.

On that note, another way she feels we need to lean in, is that the partners and spouses of working women need to be fully on board with her having a career. Interestingly, men with working partners respect other women in the workforce more than when their wife or partner doesn't work. When the woman brings in 50% of the household income, then the household and child-raising duties should also be split 50:50. Another nugget research shows is that couples who share household duties have more sex!

With the phrase “sitting at the table“, Sandberg refers to working women needing to feel that they belong at the proverbial or actual Boardroom table. Instead of merely fitting into a male dominated workplace and quietly blending into the background, we need to speak up. Instead of feeling unworthy of praise or recognition, we need to drop the guilt trip and get past our societal limitations that may have taught us that girls and young women aren’t suited for certain intellectual and high level roles, or that women who speak up are pushy or aggressive. Sandberg does concede though that high-powered women are often seen as less likeable.

As for working mothers, Sandberg quotes several studies that show children of those mothers don’t suffer nearly as much as the mothers think. Who IS suffering are the working mothers, with the bad conscience and guilt they carry. Curiously, working fathers don't carry nearly as much guilt about their absence from their children. Instead, suggests Sandberg, do the best you can with what you've got, and rather than striving for a perfect mother-child relationship, aim for a sustainable, consistent one.

In her closing comments, the author reminds us that equality doesn't mean we should ignore our gender differences. What we should do is accept and work with those differences. And to reach gender equality, not only do women need to support themselves and other women, men also need to support women. I’ll raise my glass to that!