Lean In - Love In

Over the past several months, it has been my great pleasure to get to know SHRM members and others through a series of conversations around Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. This effort began in March when I posted on SHRM’s LinkedIn page to ask for volunteers to take part in a kind of virtual book club. More than 75 people responded.

Sandberg had been slated to keynote the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition next month, but she withdrew in the wake of the recent loss of her husband Dave Goldberg. Now more than ever, I want to share the many perspectives I’ve collected about Lean In as a way of showing how important and inspirational it has been to so many—and to thank Sheryl Sandberg for writing about her personal and professional journey. We’ll also be publishing a roundtable discussion about the book in our June issue, which will be available next week.

Here are insights and impressions about the book from 13 individuals in the HR community.

Unnati Umarvadia 
HR Director, MMO Behavioral Health Systems
My overall impression of the book can be described in one word: inspiring. I have been truly motivated and inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s story and experiences, and I respect the avenue from which she shared this with her readers. Since reading the book, I have recommended it to several of my colleagues, family members and friends. A key takeaway for me: “There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

Kimberly Prescott, SHRM-SCP 
Executive Director of HR, The Donaldson Group
The book was very eye-opening. The truths that were highlighted were things I realized I was already subconsciously aware of. My biggest takeaway is that it is OK for me to be me. I don’t have to be what others expect of me. I have had experiences when I was told I was intimidating—not because I was behaving in an intimidating manner, but because I was a confident and competent African-American woman. I was very hurt by the characterizations at first. But my husband helped me to make light of it. He bought me a Dale Earnhardt hat that said “The Intimidator”! I accepted who I am. Now I know that I am not the only one.

Nivedita Bhagnari
HR Professional 
Some parts of the book connected with me immediately, such as the concept of women needing a “seat at the table.” It is so true. In various cultures, women are not taught to sit at the table. Another takeaway was: “It starts with you.” Lean In is a call for leadership, an invitation to participate in creating a society that values women, mothers, men, fathers, and in which women value and support each other and ourselves.  This book also helped me break the prejudices about women that we usually carry along with us. It helped me build my confidence in accepting authority, leadership, and my life in general.

Ashley Leveque, SHRM-CP
HR Manager, The Salvation Army 
The overarching message of the book is a great one: Women should “lean in” to their careers in order to advance to their full capacity. I related to her when she described how women tend to undersell themselves in the workplace while men tend to do just the opposite. There are times where I want to downplay my own accomplishments for fear of being seen as a braggart or worse. Understanding the right time and place for highlighting accomplishments is necessary for success.

Larry Kennedy 
Senior HR Consultant, Carolinas HealthCare System
I think the book is easy to read and at the same time very thought-provoking. I had a professor in college who said that everyone needs to see a therapist--not because everyone has a certifiable diagnosis but to help everyone recognize their biases and how those biases alter their perspective of the world. Regardless of your gender, profession, or generation, reading this book will challenge you to do more to create equality both personally and professionally. Sandberg was masterful in making the point that we all have to be committed to equality for lasting progress. It is not a book written to point fingers at anyone. While all of us have missed opportunities to improve, that does not give us permission to quit striving for the goal.

Rose McClurg
Assistant Director of HR, Michigan State University
Lean In is the platform Sheryl Sandberg uses to encourage women to become confident in their professional abilities, realize their own worth in the workplace, and believe in themselves. These three traits pave the road to career success and maybe even the corner office. Sandberg points out that women hold themselves back by lacking self-confidence, not speaking their minds freely, and lowering their own expectations of what they can achieve. I was struck by the realization that the barriers that I erect for myself internally are the largest impeders of my professional aspirations. The good news is that I can choose how much my negative self-talk affects me, and by being aware of it, I can work to overcome it.

Joy Monsma
Consultant, Teneo Consulting Inc.
Sandberg has gone where angels fear to tread by telling personal stories and laying bare the underside of women’s experiences in leadership. The stories are not just Sheryl’s; they are those of thousands of other women, including me. They triggered memories of personal experiences that I thought I had made peace with long ago. Lean In offers a welcome opportunity to continue the dialogue so we can together figure out how to dismantle the norms, biases, expectations, and beliefs that prevent women from flourishing in leadership positions. The idea of striving for “authenticity over perfection” was a powerful message that will stay with me long after the book is placed back on the shelf.

Jonathan Flickinger
HR Manager, Swanson Industries, Inc.
Lean In is a call to action. Through recounting her own experiences and sharing meaningful data and research, Sandberg addresses the many layers of a woman’s personal and professional life. In past generations, the ultimate choice boiled down to either a professional career or a personal journey into motherhood. Now, Sandberg believes, a combination of both is very attainable. She encourages young women to “lean in,” assert themselves more, and reach their full potential, delicately balancing life at home and in the workplace. It’s my opinion that Sandberg wrote this book for the Millennial generation and those who will follow after them. As Millennials take over the majority of the workforce, Sandberg’s book offers sound advice, not only for women, but for the evolution of thought in the workplace.

Jonathan Segal
Partner, Duane Morris LLP
I loved Lean In. The book included practical advice not only for women but also for men. It was empowering. Sandberg points out that there is bias in the world that we cannot control—but we can control how we respond to it and navigate around it. I think she energized the discussion around women’s roles and potential like no one since Gloria Steinem. Even those who disagree with her are talking about issues that need to be talked about, openly and respectfully. I disagree completely with those who believe she is blaming women. I wonder if they have read the book.

Danielle Crane
Chief Administrative Officer, GreenPath Inc.
My key takeaway was in the “Make Your Partner a Real Partner” chapter. The concept of choosing a partner who is willing to lean in to marriage and child-raising and to support a woman’s career with the same fervor he is willing to apply to his own, really hit home for me. Perhaps even more thought-provoking were Sandberg’s sentiments on how we must take a collaborative approach in our relationships, genuinely encouraging our companions to lean in and treating them as partners who were truly created equal to us.

Sarah Babineau, SHRM-CP
Managing Consultant, Compass Metrics
I liked Lean In. As a diversity and affirmative action consultant, I see how the effects of micro-inequities lead women to count themselves out of the competition before they need to. This is true of most historically marginalized people, including women, people of color, LGBT individuals, military service members and people with disabilities. Sandberg’s message to lean in until the moment you are ready to lean back is important for everyone to hear in today’s hypercompetitive workplace. However, the book did not address that it’s okay for women to take a breath. Women feel pressure to outperform at work and be everything to our families. When women give themselves permission to recharge, our spirits become stronger and we’re able to lean in when it counts most.

Nicole Dessain 
Founder & Principal Consultant, Talent Imperative
Lean In is an important book. It has resurfaced the discussion around the dearth of women in leadership roles. It was critical that an influential businesswoman such as Sheryl Sandberg lent her voice to this cause. This empowered others to speak up. As I am re-reading the book, I am amazed by the love and support Sheryl received from her late husband. It turns Lean In into a testimony for the powerful things that can happen when there is true respect and equal partnership between men and women in both our personal and work lives.

Liz Sheffield 
Freelance Writer and former Training Manager
Initially I refused to read Lean In. I feared it was just another missive about how women can do it all. I was certain that a successful executive like Sheryl Sandberg would admonish the choices I’ve made to shift my career in order to focus on my family. So when I finally read the book, I was shocked to find that I was in Sandberg’s camp. I saw myself in her exploration of how women engage in the workplace. I wholeheartedly agreed with her suggestion that a career can (and maybe should) resemble a jungle gym rather than a corporate ladder. I considered how I’ve approached mentors in the past and how I might change those relationships in the future. Sandberg’s messages made sense: build a partnership at home. Speak up and speak your truth at work.  And, keep the conversation going–which is exactly what this convert plans to do.


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