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Lean In summary

Lean In book cover

This book has 11 chapters, with each chapter covering a specific theme. The summarised themes for each chapter are:

  1. The ambition gap - the psychological and cultural barriers for ambitious women
  2. Sit at the table - lack of self-belief and the impostor syndrome
  3. Success and likeability - comparing sub-conscious societal biases between men and women
  4. It's a jungle gym, not a ladder - how to manage a career
  5. Are you my mentor? - the natural way of finding the right mentor
  6. Seek and speak your truth - being comfortable in bringing your true self to work
  7. Don't leave before you leave - having a family does not need to mean an end or stagnation of a career
  8. Make your partner a real partner - equality begins at home
  9. The myth of doing it all - don't strive for perfection, aim for sustainability and fulfillment
  10. Let's start talking about it - not being afraid to openly discuss the diversity issue
  11. Working together toward equality - deciding as a society that true equality is long overdue

The ambition gap

  • Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.
  • ...in today’s world, where we no longer have to hunt in the wild for our food, our desire for leadership is largely a culturally created and reinforced trait. How individuals view what they can and should accomplish is in large part formed by our societal expectations.
  • The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t. The same is true with pay.
  • Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.

Sit at the table

  • Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are—impostors with limited skills or abilities.
  • This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name—the impostor syndrome.
  • Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she “worked really hard,” or “got lucky,” or “had help from others.”
  • Research backs up this “fake it till you feel it” strategy. One study found that when people assumed a high-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down. As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. A simple change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.12
  • Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.
  • One of the things I tell people these days is that 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.”

Success and likability

  • ...research has already clearly shown: success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.
  • Men can comfortably claim credit for what they do as long as they don’t veer into arrogance. For women, taking credit comes at a real social and professional cost.
  • When a man helps a colleague, the recipient feels indebted to him and is highly likely to return the favor. But when a woman helps out, the feeling of indebtedness is weaker. She’s communal, right? She wants to help others. Professor Flynn calls this the “gender discount” problem,
  • There is little downside when men negotiate for themselves. People expect men to advocate on their own behalf, point out their contributions, and be recognized and rewarded for them. For men, there is truly no harm in asking. But since women are expected to be concerned with others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavorably.
  • ...women can increase their chances of achieving a desired outcome by doing two things in combination. First, women must come across as being nice, concerned about others, and “appropriately” female. When women take a more instrumental approach (“This is what I want and deserve”), people react far more negatively.
  • A woman’s request will be better received if she asserts, “We had a great year,” as opposed to “I had a great year.”
  • But a communal approach is not enough. According to Professor Bowles, the second thing women must do is provide a legitimate explanation for the negotiation.
  • Also, just being nice is not a winning strategy. Nice sends a message that the woman is willing to sacrifice pay to be liked by others. This is why a woman needs to combine niceness with insistence, a style that Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, calls “relentlessly pleasant.” This method requires smiling frequently, expressing appreciation and concern, invoking common interests, emphasizing larger goals, and approaching the negotiation as solving a problem as opposed to taking a critical stance.23 Most negotiations involve drawn-out, successive moves, so women need to stay focused... and smile.
  • He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress. Mark [Zuckerberg] was right.

It's a jungle gym, not a ladder

  • So instead, I want to ask you: What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it? [On how to get the job you want.]
  • Pattie Sellers, who conceived a much better metaphor: “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder."
  • We all want a job or role that truly excites and engages us. This search requires both focus and flexibility, so I recommend adopting two concurrent goals: a long-term dream and an eighteen-month plan.
  • Then he explained that only one criterion mattered when picking a job—fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies grow more slowly or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to not be doing them. Politics and stagnation set in, and everyone falters. He told me, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” I made up my mind that instant. Google was tiny and disorganized, but it was a rocket ship. And even more important to me, it was a rocket ship with a mission I believed in deeply.
  • Typically, my eighteen-month plan sets goals on two fronts. First and most important, I set targets for what my team can accomplish. Employees who concentrate on results and impact are the most valuable
  • Second, I try to set more personal goals for learning new skills in the next eighteen months. It’s often painful, but I ask myself, “How can I improve?” If I am afraid to do something, it is usually because I am not good at it or perhaps am too scared even to
  • ...talented negotiator, Shailesh Rao, who stepped in to teach me the obvious: letting the other side make the first offer is often crucial to achieving favorable terms.
  • Still, my argument was that if she was going to work for the next thirty years, what difference does going “back” four years really make? If the other path made her happier and offered her a chance to learn new skills, that meant she was actually moving forward.
  • At times, staying in the same functional area and in the same organization creates inertia and limits opportunity to expand. Seeking out diverse experiences is useful preparation for leadership.
  • One reason women avoid stretch assignments and new challenges is that they worry too much about whether they currently have the skills they need for a new role. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since so many abilities are acquired on the job.
  • An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. This difference has a huge ripple effect. Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it.”
  • Taking risks, choosing growth, challenging ourselves, and asking for promotions (with smiles on our faces, of course) are all important elements of managing a career.
  • “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Are you my mentor?

  • He had done his homework and knew that I care deeply about education. In our first meeting and in every interaction we’ve had since, Garrett has been respectful of my time. He is crisp, focused, and gracious. And he always follows up to let me know the results of our discussion.
  • Getting the attention of a senior person with a virtuoso performance works, but it’s not the only way to get a mentor.
  • I have seen lower-level employees nimbly grab a moment after a meeting or in the hall to ask advice from a respected and busy senior person. The exchange is casual and quick. After taking that advice, the would-be mentee follows up to offer thanks and then uses that opportunity to ask for more guidance.

Seek and speak your truth

  • When psychologists study power dynamics, they find that people in low-power positions are more hesitant to share their views and often hedge their statements when they do. This helps explain why for many women, speaking honestly in a professional environment carries an additional set of fears: Fear of not being considered a team player. Fear of seeming negative or nagging. Fear that constructive criticism will come across as just plain old criticism. Fear that by speaking up, we will call attention to ourselves, which might open us up to attack
  • Being aware of a problem is the first step to correcting it. It is nearly impossible to know how our actions are perceived by others.
  • Miscommunication is always a two-way street.
  • Another way I try to foster authentic communication is to speak openly about my own weaknesses.
  • When people are open and honest, thanking them publicly encourages them to continue while sending a powerful signal to others.
  • Recognizing the role emotions play and being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners, and peers.
  • It has been an evolution, but I am now a true believer in bringing our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. That type of separation probably never existed, and in today’s era of individual expression, where people constantly update their Facebook status and tweet their every move, it makes even less sense. Instead of putting on some kind of fake “all-work persona,” I think we benefit from expressing our truth, talking about personal situations, and acknowledging that professional decisions are often emotionally driven.
  • They believe leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection. This shift is good news for women, who often feel obliged to suppress their emotions in the workplace in an attempt to come across as more stereotypically male. And it’s also good news for men, who may be doing the exact same thing.
  • In the meantime, we can all hasten this change by committing ourselves to both seek—and speak—our truth.

Don't leave before you leave

  • Of Yale alumni who had reached their forties by 2000, only 56 percent of the women remained in the workforce, compared with 90 percent of the men. This exodus of highly educated women is a major contributor to the leadership gap.
  • Anyone lucky enough to have options should keep them open. Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make.

Make your partner a real partner

  • According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife in the United States both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than the father.
  • Another common and counterproductive dynamic occurs when women assign or suggest tasks to their partners. She is delegating, and that’s a step in the right direction. But sharing responsibility should mean sharing responsibility. Each partner needs to be in charge of specific activities or it becomes too easy for one to feel like he’s doing a favor instead of doing his part.
  • ...single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career.
  • Research over the last forty years has consistently found that in comparison to children with less-involved fathers, children with involved and loving fathers have higher levels of psychological well-being and better cognitive abilities. When fathers provide even just routine child care, children have higher levels of educational and economic achievement and lower delinquency rates. Their children even tend to be more empathetic and socially competent. These findings hold true for children from all socioeconomic backgrounds, whether or not the mother is highly involved.

The myth of doing it all

  • “The antiquated rhetoric of ‘having it all’ disregards the basis of every economic relationship: the idea of trade-offs. All of us are dealing with the constrained optimization that is life, attempting to maximize our utility based on parameters like career, kids, relationships, etc., doing our best to allocate the resource of time. Due to the scarcity of this resource, therefore, none of us can ‘have it all,’ and those who claim to are most likely lying.”
  • “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.
  • Counterintuitively, long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately—to set limits and stick to them.
  • General Colin Powell explains that his vision of leadership rejects “busy bastards” who put in long hours at the office without realizing the impact they have on their staff. He explains that “in every senior job I’ve had I’ve tried to create an environment of professionalism and the very highest standards. When it was necessary to get a job done, I expected my subordinates to work around the clock. When that was not necessary, I wanted them to work normal hours, go home at a decent time, play with the kids, enjoy family and friends, read a novel, clear their heads, daydream, and refresh themselves. I wanted them to have a life outside the office. I am paying them for the quality of their work, not for the hours they work. That kind of environment has always produced the best results for me.”
  • This means that an employed mother today spends about the same amount of time on primary child care activities as a nonemployed mother did in 1975.
  • “Exclusive maternal care was not related to better or worse outcomes for children. There is, thus, no reason for mothers to feel as though they are harming their children if they decide to work.”
  • Instead of perfection, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling. The right question is not “Can I do it all?” but “Can I do what’s most important for me and my family?”

Let's start talking about it

  • ...carried this attitude with me when I entered the workforce. I figured if sexism still existed, I would just prove it wrong. I would do my job and do it well. What I didn’t know at the time was that ignoring the issue is a classic survival technique.
  • But while gender was not openly acknowledged, it was still lurking below the surface. I started to see differences in attitudes toward women. I started noticing how often employees were judged not by their objective performance, but by the subjective standard of how well they fit
  • Women, especially those at junior levels, worry that raising gender issues makes them appear unprofessional or as if they are blaming others.
  • A more junior woman (or man) can also intervene in the situation when a female colleague has been interrupted. She can gently but firmly tell the group, “Before we move on, I’d like to hear what [senior woman] had to say.” This action not only benefits the senior woman but can raise the stature of the junior woman as well, since speaking up for someone else displays both confidence and a communal spirit. The junior woman comes across as both competent and nice.
  • Another bias arises from our tendency to want to work with people who are like us. Innovisor, a consulting firm, conducted research in twenty-nine countries and found that when men and women select a colleague to collaborate with, both were significantly more likely to choose someone of the same gender.
  • Yet diverse groups often perform better.
  • “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
  • A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes

Working together towards equality

  • First, we must decide that true equality is long overdue and will be achieved only when more women rise to the top of every government and every industry.
  • Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential.
  • Like any individual, Marissa knows best what she is capable of given her particular circumstances. And as journalist Kara Swisher also noted, Marissa “has a husband who can actually take care of the child, and no one seems to remember that.” Women who want to take two weeks off, or two days, or two years, or twenty years deserve everyone’s full support.
  • Because the vast majority of leaders are men, it is not possible to generalize from any one example. But the dearth of female leaders causes one woman to be viewed as representative of her entire gender. And because people often discount and dislike female leaders, these generalizations are often critical.
  • The first wave of women who ascended to leadership positions were few and far between, and to survive, many focused more on fitting in than on helping others. The current wave of female leadership is increasingly willing to speak up. The more women attain positions of power, the less pressure there will be to conform, and the more they will do for other women.

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