Iliyana's Blog

Leaning In: Learnings from Sheryl Sandberg

[fa icon="calendar"] 07-Aug-2013 08:00:00 / by Iliyana Stareva

A while ago I blogged about behind every successful woman is herselfhow we, women, have a long way to go before reaching the top of the career ladder to the same extent as men. That blog post was inspired by a talk Sheryl Sandberg gave at TED (if you haven’t seen it yet, please do it now!), which really moved me and I immediately purchased Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead on my Kindle. Now that I have read it I want to show you what I found most interesting.

Let’s give you some facts first as presented in the book:

  • Only 17 of the 195 independent countries in the world are led by women.
  • Women hold only 20% of seats in parliaments globally.
  • A meager 4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
  • In the US women hold ca. 14% of executive officer positions and 17% of board seats; in the UK – 7% of executive directorships and 15% of board seats among the FTSE 100 companies, but only 5% of executive directorships and 9% of board seats among the FTSE 250.
  • In the UK women working full-time are still paid an average 15% less per hour than men.
  • According to a 2011 McKinsey report men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.

Here’s what else struck my attention while reading the book:

"The blunt truth is that men still run the world. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect us all, women’s voices are not heard equally."

"Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional—or worse, sometimes even a negative—for women. “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost."

"Still, in today’s world, where we no longer have to hunt in the wild for our food, our desire for leadership is largely a culturally created and reinforced trait. How individuals view what they can and should accomplish is in large part formed by our societal expectations. From the moment we are born, boys and girls are treated differently."

"When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend."

"The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t. The same is true with pay. Men generally earn more than women, so people expect women to earn less. And they do."

"The stereotype of a working woman is rarely attractive. Popular culture has long portrayed successful working women as so consumed by their careers that they have no personal life."

"Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less."

"If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman seems really nice, she is considered more nice than competent. Since people want to hire and promote those who are both competent and nice, this creates a huge stumbling block for women. Acting in stereotypically feminine ways makes it difficult for women to reach for the same opportunities as men, but defying expectations and reaching for those opportunities leads to being judged as undeserving and selfish."

"We consistently underestimate ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually."

"Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns."

"As more women lean in to their careers, more men need to lean in to their families. We need to encourage men to be more ambitious in their homes. We need more men to sit at the table . . . the kitchen table."

"In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders."

"You—have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world."


As you can see, this is indeed a powerful book and it sure started a movement. Just have a look at the activity on the book’s Facebook page and the number of women it has inspired (including me) to make it to the top of their fields and pursue their goals vigourously as Sheryl Sandberg has hoped it would. And I think she’s succeeded. I am inspired by and grateful to her for writing and publishing! this book because it has managed to finally open up the discussion about women at the top on a global scale.

But the most important person I need to thank for opening my eyes and encouraging me to become a successful woman in a men’s world is my mom. She is my role model – the most hard-working, intelligent and caring person I know. Thank you, mom, for making me lean in!


Image from Paradise Garage Boutique

Topics: Career

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Program Manager in the Chief of Staff office for CX EMEAR at Cisco where she is the operational leader for all things Customer Success. In her previous roles at HubSpot, she led major cross-functional change for the global Partner Program with her detail-oriented approach to project management and advised hundreds of agencies on how to transform their businesses with inbound and digital. During that time, she earned the globally recognised Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification by the PMI. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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