Lean In: A Book Review

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BY KRIS FANT

Lean In is not the type of book you’d expect to be reviewed by a motorcycle magazine. There’s little adventure, no motorcycles, and nary an engine in this book. However, this is a book about what it is like to be a woman, negotiating 21st century society.

Written by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, this book is part memoir, part self help, part feminist manifesto. ‘Feminist’ has become a dirty word in parts of our society, and while even I fall into the group that wishes the word ‘equalist’ would have been chosen at the beginning of the crusade, the true definition of feminism is equality between the sexes. Sandberg artfully blends personal experiences with sociological research to help us understand how simply reaching for equality is not the end of our journey.

One of the themes Sandberg covers in her book is ‘Feeling like a Fraud.’ Though she discusses it through the lens of women in the workplace, this feeling of being an impostor is no stranger to women riders.

Sandberg describes a speech she heard at an honors ceremony. “The keynote speaker, Dr. Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Centers for Women, gave a talk called ‘Feeling Like a Fraud.’ She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are— impostors with limited skills or abilities….

This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name— the impostor syndrome. Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.”

As riders who are women, we are categorized, compartmentalized, and clustered into our own segment. When we band together, I believe feelings of impostor syndrome decrease, but this segregation can contribute to keeping us on an uneven playing field.

Consider the following: “In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace. They started with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. The case described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her ‘outgoing personality … and vast personal and professional network [that] included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.’ Flynn and Anderson assigned half of the students to read Heidi’s story and gave the other half the same story with just one difference—they changed the name ‘Heidi’ to ‘Howard.’

Professors Flynn and Anderson then polled the students about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. The students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, which made sense since ‘their’ accomplishments were completely identical. Yet while students respected both Heidi and Howard, Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi, on the other hand, was seen as selfish and not ‘the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’ The same data with a single difference— gender —created vastly different impressions.”

Does this happen in the riding world? Do people have different expectations for women riders? More importantly, do we have different expectations for ourselves? Are we holding ourselves back from following our biggest dreams due to the limits of our own mindset?

The moment we place the word “woman” in front of another noun, we are assuming men are the default gender. To transcend the label of woman rider, we must accept our own feelings of the ‘impostor syndrome’ and then lean in anyway. We can ease our transition with strong positive female role models. And someday, perhaps we will all simply be riders, with all of our vastly different personalities, skills, and body types.

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Quotes from
Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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