Lean In: From a guy’s perspective

It is not often that you get to hear of a guy being interested in reading a book like Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. After all, the subheading is ‘WOMEN, WORK, AND THE WILL TO LEAD’ with the focus being on women in the workplace. In an edition of Destiny Magazine, CEO of Absa Capital, Nomkhita Nqweni mentions that she bought a copy of the book for each of her male colleagues on the Barclays Africa Executive Committee. She felt a responsibility to help them understand the motivations of the company’s many executive women. Therefore, when a good friend of mine, Tanaka Mutakwa, shared that he was keen on reading the book and just wanted my thoughts on it before he did, I was keen to get his perspective on the book and saw a good conversation in the making.

About the guest:

Tanaka Mutakwa is an entrepreneur, software engineer, runner and avid reader. He lives in Cape Town and is the Founder & CEO of the NoDaysOff Lifestyle Brand. To get to know more about Tanaka you can follow his blog where he writes his ideas on how you can push yourself to succeed in your goals and ambitions, building habits that stick and doing great work. He occasionally writes about business and running too.

So here goes!!

What made you want to read the book in the first place?

I already read quite a lot of different books so when Lean In came out I saw that the book was getting quite popular. I tend to read the books that everyone is talking about. It’s just that the whole idea around the book was that it’s a ladies book so it took me a bit of time to get to it but then a few of my guy friends who also read a lot of books had also read it and recommended it and gave it positive reviews. I also chatted to a few ladies who have read it and they all kept saying that it is not really a ladies book so, I got the book on my kindle quite a while back and I was just going through the books I haven’t read and I decided that maybe it’s time I read Lean In. I did ask you too if you have read it and got similar views. I had to read it at some point just to get perspective on it.

Your thoughts on the book?

The biggest thing for me was that it was eye-opening from a guy’s perspective because you sort of get the idea that inequality does exist but I think she did well to bring out the statistics and you can’t argue with that. It was mainly eye-opening in that there has been lots of progress that has been made in terms of equality. It is just that there is still a lot of work to do. This is mainly in terms of how much ladies get paid on average compared to men and how much more representation of men compared to ladies there is in leadership. One does not see it explicitly unless someone points out the statistics.

So assuming that whilst reading it, you were able to put it in parallel with experience in the workplace. Have you seen certain inequalities that you have possibly overlooked?

I think that relates well to my industry which is also why I enjoyed the book because Sheryl is from Facebook and is in the Tech industry. From the onset when I got to University, the number of ladies doing technical related degrees like Computer Science was few compared to the guys and that has continued to filter. I have been working for six years. I have worked with almost 40/45 male software engineers. At my previous company, I worked with two female software engineers and at my current company, the second lady just joined so that’s four ladies in a six year career! I think that’s the biggest one. Sheryl mentions it in the book that ladies kind of shy away from the technical degrees or are pushed away by the notion that it’s a ‘guys’ place and end up going into different fields and I genuinely believe that there is nothing about Computer Science that says it has to be a guy’s field. That has been the biggest observation. Just like how there is a lot being done on racial representation, there is a lot that needs to be done for female representation.

Do you think enough efforts are being made to work on getting better female representation?

I’m going to use South Africa as an example because that is where we are based now. I think obviously the government in South Africa will give companies more points if a company has black females in leadership roles so that kind of drives companies to push ladies into leadership positions. But I don’t know if it should be sold at a company level only because some of these issues need to be solved at grassroots level. It has to be solved by the way cultures influence how an individual is raised. Companies definitely play a part which is why I would say that it would help if people in leadership positions in these companies, both men and women, read not just this book, but read all kinds of books that point to this, looked at these statistics and then start looking at what they can do. The best advice I can give is that maybe companies should encourage people towards reading it and then from there people can then at least make the moves to help out.

So what are your thoughts on equality?

My thoughts, personally, is that everything should be equal and even before I read the book that was my ideology. I know it doesn’t work like that in the world. That’s the problem. And I think a lot of the stuff again goes back to grassroots and how people have been brought up and the things you see as you grow up become what you expect in life. There is still a big inequality. Well, we’ve already talked about the workplace one. If we go into the home one and you go back to our own culture in Zimbabwe, a majority of families are structured in such a way that the father is the centre of the family so they are supposed to be seen as the person who does all the work for the family. If I go back to how I saw things when I was growing up, my dad did all the outdoors stuff, fixing bulbs etc and my mom would sort out the house, the kids and she would handle the cooking and stuff like that. And that’s how families are split around Africa and possibly around most of the world. So the thing is when people are growing up seeing these things they tend to assume that’s how things should always be structured-also coupled by the fact that if you do try to change it, your parents could start asking you, “what is wrong with you?” and if it’s a guy, “What are you doing in the kitchen?” or something like that. I think it will happen over time. It will transition.

It’s a lot harder in the poorer communities. That’s sort of the default. If you want to look at where the book has been criticized, I don’t know if you were going to talk about that but, it’s that how are you going to fix those people who are never going to get access to the book? She spoke from a privileged point of the view. She did not cater for someone from whom the traditional way of thinking is already a default. For those ladies who come from the poorer communities. In those communities it will be seen as disrespect and it can become a big issue.

For me in the home setup, it makes sense for the father to be as involved as much as the mom just for the children’s best interests. And similarly, if it’s not in a marriage but just a boyfriend and girlfriend setup, it’s about supporting each other. The guy has to support the girls’ career and the same thing, the girl supporting the guy’s career. .

I agree with you on the fact that Sheryl spoke from a ‘privileged’ view as one of the few who has been to an Ivy League, was already very intelligent, was naturally a go-getter but for people who are not really like that, I don’t think it would be as easy to relate to the book- maybe inspiring but not easy.

It may be a hard criticism because we don’t know what Sheryl’s intentions were. Sometimes if you fix the problem for the privileged people, you indirectly create an opportunity to fix it for the people who are not so privileged. If she had planned to cater the book for everyone, it would have been difficult to even get the book to places like rural Zim. Maybe the idea is to fix the issue also at the top where at some point you get equal representation at the top then suddenly a rural girl from an underprivileged community grows to see many more role models and starts seeing what’s possible. Sheryl could argue that that’s the angle she was going for.

Sheryl talks about making your partner a real partner in both the book and the Ted Talks video and she also talks about the myth that we women have about having it all. There is desire to be an amazing wife, mother, daughter, and sister and do great in our careers but at any point in time we cannot have all these roles working out well and that’s where the call for a real partner who helps in sharing the load comes in. Other than the traditional background you have mentioned, where is the disconnect for men?

In general, guys are very proud. I recall an example, must have been from the book, where there was a guy who was celebrating that his child was born and he was playing soccer with his friends on the same day. The guy was proud that he could tell his friends this. So, I think peer pressure is one of the biggest factors. So, you have to completely isolate yourself from that and just be fully committed to your family. The stereotype says that men should be assertive and should be leaders and so being ‘controlled’ goes against that, but surely one’s family takes priority.

 For more on this conversation, look out for a continuation in tomorrow’s article!

By Lee:

Lee is a Supply Chain professional in the FMCG industry. Not satisfied with being confined to her day job, Lee is always reading something different. The development of women and Africa are what fuel her passion. She would one day love to have dinner with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and pick her brain on so many issues.


Lee in her NoDaysOff merchandise.

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