Did Sandberg Lean in or Luck out?

Photo credit: Photographer: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg
Photo credit: Photographer: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg

PART 3 in the Sandberg Saga explores the backlash witnessed toward Sheryl Sandberg and her new book LEAN IN, from the view that Sheryl didn’t lean in to her career as much as she lucked out.

Sandberg seems to have come from a privileged background.  This assessment is subjective of course, but she herself claims to realize that she has “vast resources” at her disposal.  By simply admitting that one thing, she puts herself outside of the realm where the average woman can relate to her.  I know I’m pretty average, and I certainly can’t relate to “vast” resources.

If we can’t relate to her as a person, how are we supposed to believe that she can relate to us?  And if we don’t think she can relate to us, how can we relate to her message?  And how many people take that a step further and look for reasons to justify why Sandberg was successful and they are not.  After all, aren’t we two totally different people?  And as I’ve said before, I feel like she and I come from two different planets.

Based on information from the book, I’ve recreated Sheryl’s career trajectory, and I can’t even begin to relate to a career path like this one:

  • Fabulous parents who emphasized the importance of pursuing a meaningful life
  • Harvard education; she was told she was admitted for her personality, not her academic potential
  • Larry Summers @ Harvard; Sandberg’s economics professor and her thesis advisor
  • 1st job: World Bank with Summers; Summers arranged for her to join mission trip to India
  • MBA @ Harvard University (2 years)
  • 2nd job: consultant @ McKinsey (1 year)
  • 3rd job: Treasury Department; Summers‘ special assistant and then his chief of staff  (4 years)
  • 1 year break where she looked for the right job; “bank account was diminishing quickly” (I can only imagine!!!)
  • 4th job:  VP @ Google; age 32; (6.5 years); met CEO Eric Schmidt several times while at Treasury; worked with Marissa Mayer
  • 5th job:  COO @ Facebook; age 38; (other companies wanted her as CEO) (met Zuckerberg at a Christmas party, according to Wikipedia)

Sandberg writes that “fortune favors the bold.”  Seems to me that it’s much easier to be bold when you have these sorts of people in your ‘neighbourhood.’

There is no doubt that Sheryl was smart and worked hard in order to sustain the kind of career she’s had.  Let’s give credit where credit is due.  But I’m not sure how I feel taking career advice from someone who had Don Graham (Washington Post) making introductions for her.  I’m not sure I can believe that the struggles and challenges I face in climbing the corporate ladder are anything like the struggles she faced.

In that case, is it any wonder that when she offers advice like sit at the table, and don’t leave before you leave, people feel a little miffed?

Next post focuses on the comments from the bookstore clerk when I bought my copy of LEAN IN.  Stay tuned as the saga continues.



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