Gender Politics

Five Girl-Power Books Exactly Like Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’

Sandberg isn’t the first to tell women how to assert themselves with catchy mantras and slightly baffling metaphors. By Sean Macaulay.

Jeff Chiu/AP

Modern feminists are finally having their Arab Spring, thanks to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Her Lean In “revolution” is sweeping through the chattering classes, and the old guard of sexist male business leaders must be feeling about as secure as a gold statue of Colonel Gaddafi.

Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, is already onto its eighth printing and being published in 20 more countries. To name just a few, it’s making its entrance as En Avant Toutes (Forward All), Facciamoci Avanti (Step Forward), and Faça Acontecer (Make It Happen).

Not bad for a phrase most men still don’t understand. (It’s something to do with sitting closer to the boardroom and getting more involved, right?) But then, this is the new “corporate casual” model of female empowerment: high tech but organic, elitist but caring, touchy-feely yet ruthlessly driven. In the language of Silicon Valley, it’s Feminism OS X Lioness.

There has been some backlash—mostly from other women, interestingly. But perhaps this indicates there is a deeper divide among office workers than gender prejudice. Namely, the gap between hard-charging super-ambitious overachievers who love getting up at 5 a.m. to manage 2,500 khaki-clad software engineers and, um, the rest of us.

It may feel like trickle-down self-help. But even the Taliban would be proud of the statistics for women in American boardrooms. Of all Forbes 500 companies, only 3.8 percent are run by women. For the average liberal male, it’s all very confusing. Who wouldn’t want more women bosses? They’re cleverer than us, better educated, and less likely to be bullies. I’ve had more women bosses than men in my career and never thought twice about it. The Forbes 500 boys’ club has remained conspicuously silent on the issue for now. Maybe they think this latest flurry of female agita, however upscale and stylish, will peter out like the old bra-burning antics of legacy feminism.

Good luck with that plan. In the self-help section at, “Women in the Workplace” is a stand-alone category booming with a 1,194 titles. (A “Men at Home” section can’t be far behind.) Male corporate America would be well advised to put aside their copies of Sun Tzu and The Art of the Deal and study our guide to corporate handbooks for women.

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg (Knopf)

Obligatory ‘Power’ SubtitleWomen, Work, and the Will to Lead.

In a NutshellThe women’s revolution has stalled. It’s time to be outspoken, aggressive, and more powerful than men.

Metaphor Overdrive• “It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder.”• “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”• “Outsiders observers reminding us that we must be struggling—and failing—is just bitter icing on an already soggy cake.”

Feminine Version of Macho Swagger“My pregnancy was not easy ... One day, after a rough morning spent staring at the bottom of the toilet, I had to rush to make an important client meeting.”

Unique ToolLean In Circles, a.k.a. “small peer groups that meet in person for ongoing encouragement.” Like something out of Sex and the City, except you pass around career tips instead of a Rabbit.

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Celebrity Name-DropsJane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey for “reminding me of being authentic.”

Not to be Confused WithThe Best of Bill Withers: Lean on Me.


Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, by Lois Frankel (Business Plus)

Obligatory ‘Power’ Subtitle101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers.

In a NutshellStop being a girl, start being a woman.

Metaphor Overdrive• ”This is where the rubber meets the road.”

• “Keeping your eye on the ball is essential when it comes to winning the game of business.”

• “Surround yourself with a Plexiglas shield ... to see what is going on around you, but not be punctured by the negativity of others.”

Feminine Version of Macho Swagger• “Quit bein’ a girl!”• “Don’t feed others. You’re not ‘Mom’ or Betty Crocker.”

Unique ToolA 25-word Vision Statement to “create the word on the street.” Write down how you want to be described, then list the behaviors needed to get you there.

Celebrity Name-DropWimbledon player Julie Anthony.

Not to be Confused WithBethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl cocktails—“Drink like a lady.”


How Remarkable Women Lead, by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston (Crown Business)

Obligatory ‘Power’ SubtitleThe Breakthrough Model for Work and Life.

In a NutshellThe right stuff for women compiled by McKinsey’s finest.

Metaphor Overdrive• “The glue that holds ...” “The tapestry you weave ...”• “Your leardership journey is a marathon with challenging hills and long stretches.”• “I had hiked off the main trail and onto a goat path. Ah, but don’t I always choose that rocky and steep path!”

Feminine Version of Macho Swagger“The bully I fear the most ... is me.”

Unique ToolThe five elements of “Centered Leadership”: meaning, framing, connecting, engaging, and energizing.

Celebrity Name-DropIMF chief Christine Lagarde, Oxygen founder “Gerry” Laybourne, ex–U.K. spymaster Dame Stella Rimington.

Not to be Confused With An Unremarkable Life, the 1989 TV movie starring Shelley Winters as a bitter old widow.


I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, by Kate White (HarperBusiness)

Obligatory ‘Power’ SubtitleSuccess Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know.

In a NutshellMiranda Priestly would approve. White was editor in chief of Cosmopolitan.

Metaphor Overdrive• “Develop a golden gut.”• “Drain the swamp as you slay the alligators.”• “Jump in and see if the river takes you somewhere magical.”

Feminine Version of Macho Swagger• “Get some eye of the tiger.”• “Go big or go home.”

Unique ToolHer rechanneling method for “bitch envy.” When someone at work annoys you, turn the envy back on yourself and use it to motivate yourself.

Celebrity Name-DropComedian Amy Schumer, Pink, “fantastic dermatologist” Dr. Ellen Marmur.

Not to be Confused WithStand-up comedian Ron White, whose albums include Drunk in Public and You Can’t Fix Stupid.


I’d Rather Be In Charge, by Charlotte Beers (Vanguard Press)

Obligatory ‘Power’ SubtitleA Legendary Business Leader’s Roadmap for Achieving Pride, Power, and Joy at Work.

In a NutshellThe female Don Draper. Beers was chairman of Ogilvy & Mather and earned the nickname Queen of Madison Avenue.

Metaphor Overdrive• “Hurricane Charlotte.” • “You need skin in the game.”• “No one warned me that breaking glass ceilings meant standing in piles of glass, not upon a pedastal.”

Feminine Version of Macho SwaggerBack in the day, she drank Scotch mists at lunch. A journalist asked, “How is that smoking, drinking, and sexing from the Mad Men era working today?” Beers replied, “Well, there’s a lot less smoking.”

Unique ToolThe word “leaderly,” as in “women have to cross the threshold from ‘womanly’ to ‘leaderly.’”

Celebrity Name-DropSuze Orman, Martha Stewart (“Charlotte Beers is—Captivating. Persuasive. Charming. Disarming. Eloquent. Substantive ...”).

Not to be Confused WithCharles in Charge.


The Lean, by Kathy Freston (Weinstein Books)

Obligatory ‘Power’ SubtitleA Revolutionary (and Simple!) 30-Day Plan for Healthy, Lasting Weight Loss.

In a NutshellActually, a lot of nutshells. Freston is a vegan advocate.

Metaphor OverdriveNone to speak of. She does keep it simple with lots of exclamation marks. “So there go, Day 1! Just drink you water—at least 8 ounces, 8 times a day, before you drink or eat your regular fare. And that’s all!”

Feminine Version of Macho SwaggerNone. She is a former model and loves cute animals.

Unique ToolHer sheer hotness—and something called the Lean 30-Day Plan.

Celebrity Name-DropOprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Harvey Weinstein.

Not to be Confused WithLean In by Sheryl Sandberg.