Would Mar(tha) Zuckerberg Lean In?


As some of you might recall, when Sheryl Sandberg's TED Talk came out I was really taken with what she had to say and wrote Sandberg a letter of gratitude. I just finished reading Lean In and wanted to follow up that post with some thoughts on the book…a little review. Have you read it? Will you indulge me?

There was one topic so blatantly omitted that I almost thought the book hadn't download completely: women entrepreneurs (namely: every woman listed here). There is not a single full sentence, let alone paragraph or chapter, devoted to this mushrooming class of women who have decided to take control of their own fate, instead of joining in the Sisyphean task of changing power dynamics from the inside out that Sandberg advocates. Elementary buzz words (from Sandberg's own industry no less) like "innovation," "invention," "entrepreneurship" and "disruption" are virtually non-existent, nevermind promoted. Instead, the book is focused on increasing women in positions of power in "governments, corporations, academia, hospitals, law firms, non-profits…[and] research labs." That about sums up Sandberg's scope.

But with the power of technology, innovation, and education, that model is becoming– and arguably has become– obsolete. Her approach already feels outdated. In short: Sandberg's book is written squarely for women (like her) who possess the admirable patience and perseverance to log decades working for men like Mark Zuckerberg, and, perplexingly, not a call to arms for women to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. This approach seems so uninspired that it is hard to see how Lean In will inspire a revolution. Her call to arms seems to be, "stay put, lean in and and claw your way towards something that resembles 'power' so we can claim victory when the face of 'power' looks more equal." To my mind, increased power and victory for women will not come solely from playing nice within existing empires, but from building empires of their own. Sandberg's book reads like an instruction manual on how to run on a hamster wheel of corporate or traditionally defined success when, ironically, she leads a company founded on the exact opposite of these ideals by a visionary college dropout who wanted to upend the world order (for better or worse).

Every role model I have–Tina Roth Eisenberg of Tattly, Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge,Gina Trapani of Lifehacker, Maria Popova of BrainpickingsCaterina Fake of Flickr, Jen Bekman of 20 x 200, Robin Chase of ZipCar, Twyla Tharp, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co– (the list goes on and on)–has "taken the off ramp" (in some cases quite early) and, through ingenuity and grit, created her own highway. They haven't had to elbow for a seat at the Old Boys Club table. They've built their own damn table. 

For well-educated women entrenched in and committed to transforming behemoth institutions: Lean In is the roadmap for you. Godspeed. But for creative, enterprising, scrappy, imaginative, restless, optimistic women of every stripe eager to carve out a fulfilling career I want to say this: you don't need to wait for power structures to change, or for someone to pick you. Pick yourself. I urge you to check out this list of female entrepreneurs and familiarize yourself with the 300 women listed there. (And I wish Sandberg would do the same). They aren't leaning in. They are leading the way.

I still think Sandberg is an admirable role-model, and I'm grateful for the debate she's inspired. But where she sees a crisis, I see a Renaissance.  Her book made me wish she could hang out with some of the women I know and admire, away from the corner offices of Google, Ebay, Goldman Sachs and Yahoo! Because y'all are awesome.