The Failures of Lean-In Feminism

Elizabeth Grace Matthew:

Former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s first book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, in which the Facebook COO offers predominantly female readers gutsy, directive advice about how to approach their careers, is about to reach its tenth birthday. Looking back over the last decade, it’s unclear whether it made a difference for women in America. 

Sandberg’s book, which grew out of her Ted talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” and launched hundreds of women’s groups, is best understood as a forceful response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s famous 2012 lament in The Atlantic that women in the twenty-first century still could not “have it all.” 

In her book, Sandberg accepts this fact and doubles down: Of course, no one can have it all; still, women should run fully half of the world’s businesses and men fully half of its homes, because a world in which more women lead is presumptively a better world for all women. 

Yet despite Lean In’s phenomenal popularity and some of its useful tips on matters like negotiating salaries, just eight percent of Fortune 500 companies today are female-led. We are not much closer to Sandberg’s visionthan we were a decade ago.