Just Read (and discussed with my mother): Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

I know I’ve come to this book 3 years later than the rest of society, and I don’t actually know why I picked it up – I think someone told me it was a must read. So I read it.

I actually consulted my mother at the conclusion to ask things about myself and herself that I hadn’t known before. Except that I had. More on that later.

There’s an impressive amount of derision sent Ms. Sanberg’s way because of her leadership in this space. While I was reading the book I received derision on her behalf, from another person who is a a woman. I also received praise and support for her, also from a person who is a woman. Every human is unique, and this discussion isn’t easy.

Children absolutely need parental involvement, love, care, time, and attention. But parents who work outside the home are still capable of giving their children a loving and secure childhood.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2028-2030). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This quote made me recall my experiences in the last 4 years studying gender through the lens of the LGBTQ and specifically the transgender community, including once-in-a-lifetime moments of beauty where I was allowed to learn. I am specifically speaking of my time at XX-in-Health, which I will never forget:

And I was the man (barely): XX in Health 2015

“So is this your thing now?” At the time, I didn’t know how to respond. Now I would say yes. I made this my “thing” because we need to disrupt the status quo. Staying quiet and fitting in may have been all the first generations of women who entered corporate America could do; in some cases, it might still be the safest path. But this strategy is not paying off for women as a group. Instead, we need to speak out, identify the barriers that are holding women back, and find solutions.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2181-2185). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This reminded me of the many, many, many (many) times, through my association with women, including transgender women, that I’ve heard this sentiment myself.

The designation of something as “your thing” comes in many shapes and forms, sometimes designed to create a ” you’re not fitting in”  feeling, sometimes because the designator’s values incongruous with ones from this century.

We know from science that these attitudes and behaviors can be modulated. They persist, though, and they are challenging in the moment, even for the COO of a multi-billion dollar organization.

I was in a position to evaluate that risk and chose to take it. The laws that protect women and minorities and people with disabilities, among others, from discrimination are essential, and I am not suggesting they be circumvented. But I have also witnessed firsthand how they can have a chilling effect on discourse, sometimes even to the detriment of the people they are designed to defend.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2248-2251). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

She’s referring to established principles in recruitment about not asking about marriage, parenting plans, or other identifying information that could be used to discriminate.

This is similar in my mind to what has happened with data collection in health care.

In the 1960’s, the most progressive health care organizations decided that information about patients’ race or other identifying factors would never be collected, to protect people from discrimination.

50 years later this idea is being reversed. Knowing allows us to deliver a better experience for everyone. The judgement of leaders in both eras was correct.

I remember in my own experience, a long time ago, when I was advocating for outreach to the men who have sex with men (MSM) community for improved vaccination against Hepatitis. I was told that this wouldn’t happen, by a leader who happened to be a heterosexual male. He told me that we needed to be blind to a person’s identity in these programs. The problem was that a huge outbreak was underway while this pronouncement was made, and so more people rather than less became infected.

Different times call for different approaches, and when a person’s diversity is cherished and considered an asset, some of the protective policies become harmful.

I wonder in the above example if every candidate could be given written material to clearly outline the importance and respect for family planning choices. That way, they wouldn’t be faced with this dialogue in an interview, but they could make choices comfortably with this knowledge. I would say the same thing for LGBTQ candidates – having access to knowledge about robust gender identity accommodation in the workplace can avoid the appearance of bias if asked in an interview. Maybe Facebook already does this.

Depending on the situation and the vulnerability created by an identity, the presence of a written policy is usually not enough, so a list of contacts to discuss experiences with, confidentially is useful. As I wrote this, I’m having a flashback to a time when I was interviewed for a position and proactively and instinctively, my interviewer set up a last minute interview with another leader who was LGBTQ, to demonstrate the openness of the workplace. It blew me away actually.

My own attempts to point out gender bias have generated more than my fair share of eye rolling from others. At best, people are open to scrutinizing themselves and considering their blind spots; at worst, they become defensive and angry.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2287-2289). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is common and it happens to me, too. These moments are really tough regardless of whether you’re the COO of a large organization, a doctor, or someone differently empowered in society.

My wish for people during these moments is to follow this advice, because pointing out bias, sometimes perceived as anger, is really just a request to be curious:

Notice your defensiveness and accept the discomfort of unlearning and relearning. To be competent in this arena is the same as learning to be competent in anything else. It requires a desire to know, motivation to become informed, opportunities to practice and the willingness to correct your mistakes.

Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism— “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”— the percentage of women who agree rises to 65 percent. That’s a big move in the right direction.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2354-2357). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

By that definition, I am a feminist then. And a humanist.

As part of the LGBTQ community, I’ve had strange experiences, because I am in rooms with other males, who expect me to possess the gender expression of a cisgender heterosexual man.

While I don’t hear some of the more denigrating statements made about women that are discussed in this article, I see environments that aren’t supportive of women, and feel a subtle expectation that I should be in sync with them.

As is noted below in my implicit association test results, I don’t fully identify with expectations of men in society.

I do think progress turns on our willingness to speak up about the impact gender has on us. We can no longer pretend that biases do not exist, nor can we talk around them.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2358-2359). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In Facebook, Inc.’s own training of its employees on unconscious bias that it bravely shared with the world, one of the leaders of the training remarked how surprised he was that he tested as biased against women in the workplace given that he was raised by a woman who worked outside the home.

When I took the same test, I had the opposite result, no bias against women in the workplace, and no bias against women in science vs. liberal arts. With full transparency, here are my results as I detailed in this blog post: Getting ready for XX in Health, Assessing my own biases – Ted Eytan, MD:

Note that I do possess automatic preferences for heterosexual people. Diagnosis: I am human.

Conversation with Ted’s Mother

I was curious about the difference in results, because I was raised by a mother who didn’t work outside the home.

This was part of my dialogue with her recently, about how I became “me.”

I realize today what I must have realized then, which is that if she had the option, she would have worked outside the home. She reminded me that she did start a successful business eventually, and did work outside the home once we left for college, and was extremely successful there as well.

How do I reconcile these things? I asked my mother, and in the privacy of our conversation she asked that I not share her thoughts here, so I won’t.

I can say what I was exposed to:

  • Women who worked very hard, selflessly
  • Women who knew the value of having control over their destiny, even if they did not have it themselves

My results above show that it shapes my automatic associations. It also shapes my behavior to this day. These associations if more common will probably also shape society in a positive way.

…..as Sandberg covered in her TED Talk from 2010.

Without having read the book, my mother said the same thing as Sandberg in our conversation:

Your kids need your time, love, and attention, and to know no matter what that you love them, and they can tell you anything so you will protect them. All this gives kids the security that you’re there for them.

Ted’s mother

Sandberg says she has never had a boss who’s a woman. That’s impressive. I was asking myself as I read the book about the mentors I’ve had and if they were women. Answer is yes, many, to my great fortune.

Since the book was written, Sandberg has transitioned from dual parent to single parent status, additional perspective that she painfully acquired, and discussed in her commencement speech at UC Berkeley earlier this year.

I support leadership. I support this century. I support all of the people who are working to make this century awesome for all humans :).

I’m doing reading on this phenomena and will post on it next.

…thinking that we are objective can actually make this even worse, creating what social scientists call a “bias blind spot.” This blind spot causes people to be too confident about their own powers of objectivity so that they fail to correct for bias. 8 When evaluating identically described male and female candidates for the job of police chief, respondents who claimed to be the most impartial actually exhibited more bias in favor of male candidates. This is not just counterproductive but deeply dangerous.

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 2262-2267). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



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Ted Eytan, MD
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