Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Got From Lean In

I read "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg recently.  It's basically a collection of tips for women who work in male-dominated professions.

I've always been in male dominated fields, and I could really relate to many of the situations she described.  I'm glad that she brought up that in many cases, your own prejudices and insecurities work against you to make the experiences even more negative than they otherwise would have been.  Most of the tips involve shifting your own way of thinking or doing things to compensate for your bad habits.  It was also helpful for me to read these because it also gave me a better understanding of other women.

The most interesting conflict was the one between Success and Likability, which is what Chapter 3 is focused on.  Basically, being nice is necessary for being attractive as a woman in America.  Being attractive is important for self-esteem and feeling like a complete human being.  At work, there will always be someone who will be upset so matter what you do, even is you are just doing your job.  There will always be cases where you are inconveniencing someone, and they may take it personally or simply act like they're taking it personally.  If being agreeable is important than being disliked by even one person can be very disconcerting and uncomfortable.  As a result, many American women do not feel that leadership positions and being ambitious are fun or rewarding.  Sandberg considers this the biggest reason women eventually stop working or don't return to work after having children.  It's just not worth it.

I find this really interesting because I actually don't feel the same need to be likable.  I really think it is because Chinese culture does not emphasize being nice or even liked in order to be attractive.  There is much more of an emphasis on being smart, competent, and hard-working.  Those are the qualities one's self-worth are tied to.  As my friend would say, we feel the need to be a PMOS - productive member of society.  The principle is that if you are helpful you will be liked, but good intentions are useless.  So now that I understand the need to be nice and liked, I can better understand American women.  I can also see why there are many Chinese and Taiwanese-American women in male-dominated fields and moving up corporate ladders right now.  

I wrote up more of my thoughts in a google doc where I listed what I considered to be the main points in each chapter.  I'm planning on using it for a discussion on the book.


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