Elisa Harca, Regional Director at Red Ant is our guest blogger this week! She shares her personal experiences on the new book ‘Lean-In’ written by Sheryl Sandberg , Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.


As a young-ish female, who is ambitious, but not cut-throat; who likes to feel she can be oneself in the ‘work’ environment and not be forced to morph into an alpha-female, come sudo-male; but is also not what I would have deemed a feminist, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book with apprehension.

But, as a curious person, I was most certainly intrigued. The amount of press about the book, made it impossible for me to avoid. But, had it not been bought as a gift for me, I am not sure I would have taken the plunge. Sheryl undoubtedly is an uber-smart woman who has absolutely ‘made-it’ (a few times over), but having read an article about her in Stylist Magazine, where she talked about it being ‘ok to cry at work’ I must admit, I was a bit sceptical as to whether Sheryl and I would be on the same page. You see, I feel that there are certain emotions that you need to keep under wraps in the office, and crying is one of them. This probably makes me sound heartless, but as a highly emotional person, believe me it’s not. I feel that unless there has been a family crisis, something that really breaks your heart, you should be able to control the crying and at least take it behind closed doors (a bathroom, go for a walk ….). I feel quite strongly about this, and having worked in high-pressured advertising agencies for the most part of my career, I know it’s possible. Crying for me at work immediately creates a negative environment for the person crying and the person witnessing. It’s not fair for the crier, to make the witness’s day unbalanced. Believe me I have cried many times about work (even in a Pilates class which was beyond embarrassing), but I have only cried in the office, in front of colleagues when my cousin committed suicide.

Anyway, I tell you this story as I wanted to give you context of how I approached Sheryl’s book. It was with apprehension about our value commonality. And, as a regular reader of personal development, self-help, business books, I was a bit jaded about reading another book, that looks good on the cover, but leaves you feeling empty at the end (I won’t name any here, but frustratingly, there are far too many).

So, for me, I was delighted that as soon as I started reading Sherly’s book, I couldn’t put it down and consumed it within two days (which for me was pretty impressive as I was in the middle of a huge move from London to Hong Kong by way of Shanghai, moving seven years of stuff, plus a boyfriend and leaving behind amazing family and friends, to embark on a new career and life journey).

The reason I was able to read Sherly’s book so quickly was that I found it straight-forward; it was like having a chat with her over tea. There is no superfluous content that makes you need to skip a chapter forward. The way it’s written, anecdotally makes it accessible, believable and useful. The key take away’s for me are:

  • Push aside that inferiority complex – annoyingly us ladies tend to have a pre-disposition to doubting our ability, whereas alpha-men tend to have the opposite (I distinguish alpha-men here from other men as I know a lot of super smart men, who possess this stifling trait, and they tend to lean-out this way). This lack of self-belief can hold us back unduly, but we can use it to our advantage, as Sheryl has done in her career. She has used her curiosity and determination to ‘go-for-it’. It’s like the age old tale, if you want the role act the role. You need to make employers, employees, colleagues and the like believe you can do it, work hard at it, and although you may come across challenges, the odds are you will make it work. Let’s stop saying ‘well I can’t do 30% of the role, so I won’t go for it’ and instead say ‘well I can do 70% of the role and go for it’.
  • Don’t feel you have to conform to expectations – more than men woman are judged. Kids, no kids, married not married, male-like, cunning etc. I like the way Sheryl has always been open to challenging perceptions. Yes, she has had kids, but she has found a way to maintain her career not by being super woman, but by reassigning the way to make it work in partnership, with her husband. The way she describes the role responsibilities is more like a job share, where you look at your collective goal as two people and work out how to make it work best, for all. For me, my job tends to take the lead over my partners, and as we get older and ‘more successful’ I think we have both found this challenging as we have been thinking about ‘me’ not ‘we’. Sheryl’s book has made us readdress this thinking, and work more as a team.
  • Standing strong as women, together – I’ve always been slightly cautious of people that deem themselves feminist as I felt it was unnecessary in this day and age to intentionally segregate ourselves as women. But, it seems that women of power, like Sheryl and like the women who took part in the Woman of the World (WOW) event in London earlier this year, are redefining feminism as something that is supportive vs. divisive (men are even behind it!). And, I now realise, this is what I have been doing since I was a child, just not knowing it. It’s simple actions that Sheryl describes that I truly believe in and do innately. For example, if I meet women who are highly able, successful, I openly praise them and admire them vs. labelling them as the proverbial devil. I find women who make things happen inspiring to be around personally and professionally, and I loathe other woman who make these women that lean-in, feel alienated. We should support one another, and, instead of envy have admiration. I have worked with a few too many females, who are smart and successful, and when they lose this camaraderie, they pretty soon make enemies not allies and I think ultimately lose their positions of power, and most importantly lose friends. So, I still wouldn’t call myself a feminist (I just don’t like labels, hence why I am not married, but had the same partner for 17 years), but I definitely am a woman of women power! But, ladies, let’s not forget we have to support the guys too, especially as a manager, a mixed sex team is not only beneficial but necessary. And, boys, I think it’s worthwhile you read this for yourselves or for the women in your lives.

Having read Sheryl’s book, I now know we share similar values, and should I have the opportunity to meet her, I have no-doubt I’d learn a lot (especially when it comes to time management – wow!). And, just to take it back to the initial barrier, her acceptance of crying in the work place, through the book, I think she shows balance especially the way she talks about people looking for help and support via mentorship. It’s clear that Sheryl is very generous with her time, and gives recognition where recognition is due, but she is also no walk over, her whole premise is, if you want something, show some initiative and don’t expect someone, like a mentor, to wave a magic wand and deliver your dreams to you. You need to have some guts and gumption and LEAN-IN! I support that concept whole heartedly, but still say, leave the crying outside.

Follow me on twitter @harcagypsy

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