I have been asked numerous times recently about my view of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Unless you’ve been on a severe media diet over the past six months, you’ll know that I’m referring to the Facebook COO’s book espousing her view of what women need to do in order to achieve positions of leadership in business. And if you know me, you’ll know that I rarely weigh in on gender-based issues (recent post on making great presentations notwithstanding). However, this one keeps drawing my attention, but maybe not for the obvious reason.
Here’s the thing. While I think Ms. Sandberg has many good things to say about what women ought to do differently in what, sadly, is still a hugely male-dominated work world (at least at the top), for me that’s not the point. In a nutshell:
Why couldn’t one of the world’s most high-profile female business leaders have written a book about…. business?
In related news, the always provocative Danielle LaPorte recently posted a photograph of the business section in an airport bookstore. What she noted was that of the 47 books available, 45 were by men. The other two? Books by women – about how women need to be like men to get ahead. And my good friend Michael Bungay Stanier, when assembling the speaker list for his upcoming Great Work MBA program, discovered that it was quite difficult to find diversity of perspective (gender-based or otherwise) in the realm of business book authors. So while I’ve by no means done statistically significant research, it’s getting pretty easy to see that the world of business thinking is missing a point of view or two.
It’s not that there’s aren’t gender-based issues. There are. It IS harder to juggle multiple roles, to break through glass ceilings, to elbow into the boys’ club, to bulldoze ancient gender stereotypes – I’m not denying any of that. But if that’s all women write about, I think there’s a problem. I really believe that the biggest opportunity for women who want to rise to senior leadership positions is to get taken seriously as business thinkers.
By the way, the only publisher I could find that seems to be making inroads in this area is the one that happened to publish my book – Bibliomotion. Check out their author list – there’s some great stuff in there.
As a former marketer, I completely understand the temptation to create something provocative that has a big and well-defined audience. But, at least in my view, if strong, smart, high-achieving, high-profile business women only use their platform to engage in the gender conversation, we’re not making any headway. And by “we,” I mean everyone.
If you have thoughts about this whole “Lean In” phenomenon, and why there are so few business books written by women, please post in the comments below.