Lean In & the NZ ICT women paradox

Let me start by saying I liked Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and the community she is building around it. It is good for what it is, a kind of memoir/advice hybrid backed by solid research. As long as that’s what you’re looking for, you can ignore the criticism for what it isn’t.

I read the book (and watched her TED talk) partly to see if it could offer any insights into a paradox that’s troubling me.

On the one hand, the NZ ICT industry is suffering from a lack of talented people. Logically that would make the NZ ICT industry create the best conditions for women as, otherwise, half the talent pool isn’t being tapped. Paradoxically, the few women that the NZ ICT industry has managed to attract and retain have negative stories of sexism and sometimes difficult working conditions.

Unfortunately, Sheryl’s thinking offers little help. Her focus is on the world of smart, ambitions women fighting to get to the top in America’s hyper-competitive corporate scene, the likes of McKinsey, Google, and Facebook. Most of her views are context-specific and do not translate well (if at all) to other cultures and countries. Hers is a survival guide, not a feminist manifesto for reforming the establishment.

Yet, for all of that, it is a book worth reading (or the TED video worth watching). Sheryl writes in an open, honest and sometimes quirky way that makes the book, and her, engaging. I particularly liked her advice on finding mentors, written with her gender-aware perspective. A lovely line, typical of Sheryl’s insightful nuggets, was “Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers.”

There’s a lot that men who want to make a difference, either as partners or business leaders, can take away from the book. Definitely a recommended read, both for men and women.

As for insights into my NZ ICT women paradox, that remains unaddressed.


2 thoughts on “Lean In & the NZ ICT women paradox

  1. Great comment. I am glad you pointed out that Sandberg’s audience is limited to females that are already somewhat successful and the book represents a collection of advices for them. Left our of the picture are the rest of the women: the ones that do not have choices or bargaining power for better working conditions. At the same time the book ignores pretty much the entire institutional and legal framework: it is good that Sheryl Sandberg works for such open-minded guys in Silicon Valley but this is not the case for other women that work in settings far less friendly and far less sexist.
    Which makes the book great but of rather limited use for women all around the world or even for women in the US.

    • Agree that the book applies to a small percentage of women who want to rise to the top within the hyper-competitive US companies. Essentially people like Sheryl.

      Yet, for all of that, there are some good insights for both females and males in the workplace. To the extent it presents solid research, much of it applicable to NZ and other countries, on the issue of women succeeding in the workplace, it is a welcome addition to a much needed conversation.

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