The more I read of Lean In, the more it resonates with me. I’m not more than halfway through, but have several quotes highlighted and ideas for conversation topics with the women in my professional life. But something keeps bothering me –
There has been no mention of privilege.
Oh, sure. There is reference to male privilege — the belief that men are inherent leaders, the privileges associated with being males in a classroom or boardroom, the privilege of being a less involved partner or parent that falls to men.
But Sheryl Sandberg has yet to identify or mention her own privilege. Maybe it’s coming later in the book — I hope — but for me, it needed to be acknowledged early. That’s part of leaning in, isn’t it, understanding ourselves and who we are? Sandberg wholeheartedly wants us to know what holds us back — and I agree with that idea — but we also have to pay respect to what launches us forward.
For Sandberg, it appears to be the privilege of an Ivy League education, both undergraduate and graduate degrees. There is, of course, no discussion of how this education was financed, but she does reference her father’s career as a renowned physician and the volunteer work her mother did. The Harvard education undoubtedly opened more doors for her, created more opportunities for her, likely ones that my state school education wouldn’t have in a similar major or field.
And so it becomes critical, as we read, that we ask ourselves about our own privilege and understand how it affects our seat at the table and our voice in the room. As someone who feels the tremendous weight of having leaned in most of her life — I can’t remember a time I didn’t ask for what I wanted including additional compensation and more opportunities at work — I also know that tendency to lean in comes from feeling like I was at a disadvantage in many situations and needed to advocate for myself.
I know that my education, on par with my colleagues, is a privilege in many facets of my life. I know that my current socioeconomic status affords me opportunities to travel, connect, and give of my time. I know that my parents’ socioeconomic status afforded me an excellent public education, including extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities. I know that my privilege is inherently tied to my opportunity, and as I help other women on their path, I need to be respectful that we have all had different experiences and are not playing the game with the same hand of cards. In fact, many of us are not playing the same game or even using the same deck of cards.
As I said, I hope Sandberg touches on this later in the book, though I have a lingering suspicion that the topic will never come up. Sometimes it’s the absence of acknowledgement that provides the most meaningful context. And so I will move forward in the book thinking less about where I am going and instead where I came from.