Do YOU Lean In? A Book Discussion – Act I of II

Jun 24, 2013

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In case you haven’t heard, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and one of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women has written a book.  Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead has sparked much conversation, and some controversy.  I read it.  I liked it.  It made me think.  But most of all it made me want to know what other women are thinking.  So I asked some of my colleagues and was blown away at the response.  Hence, this post.


For starters, especially if you have not read the book yet, check out Sandberg’s TED talk which presents the premise of her book:


So much to think about and to talk about.  Here are some of my thoughts and some of my colleagues’ takeaways.

First, Sandberg and I are contemporaries.  In fact, we are almost exactly the same age.  I can relate to her discussion of the “new normal” at work and at home, and the delicate balance of stay-at-home or “work-at-home” as her mother-in-law calls it (love it!) as well as the “do it all” or “have it all” syndrome.  However, I was most interested in the gender bias information – especially the disheartening example of “Heidi vs Howard” and the frustrating juxtaposition of “success and likeability.”  The citations throughout, but especially in this section, are extremely helpful.  And, contrary to some critics, I feel that her career advice is fitting for women in any field or position.

Sandberg is allowed to generalize as is necessary with this topic – otherwise every sentence would be prefaced with “in general” and other qualifiers… please allow me and my guests the same leeway to generalize for the sake of discussion.

This is not a “book review” but instead an attempt to continue the conversation that Sandberg started.
Here are some of the questions I had after reading the book and here’s what some of my colleagues had to say:
1.    What were your top 1-3 takeaways?
2.    Do you think our profession (dietitians, healthcare, predominantly female field) is a different environment with regard to the gender issues or other points Sandberg makes?  Do you think women (in general) value relationships and “service” type of work than power/titles/advancement?  Do you think more women are drawn to the dietetics profession in part because of these differences or traits?
3.    The book brought up many points that made me think back to my own experiences and view them from a different perspective than before.  Do you have any personal stories or examples to share?
4.    Do you have any advice for other RDs regarding career, leadership, etc. (can be related to the book or not).

Kate Scarlata, RDN
Kate is a registered and licensed dietitian with private practice offices in Boston and Medway, Massachusetts. Kate provides individual and group consultations as well as interactive nutrition workshops.

1.    My top takeaways were that women still have far to go to be on an even playing field with men in regard to financial compensation and leadership role.  Although improving, women still hold far less leadership positions and make less money. We need to expect more in order to get more.

2.    Is the dietetics profession different?
No, I don’t think our profession is much different.  I think women in general are more nurturing by nature so that a service profession might come more naturally for them.  Yes, I do think women are more drawn to the dietetic profession due to gender traits, but obviously there are men in the field of dietetics and nutrition that also do a wonderful job.

3.    Personal story/example:
For me, the book provided a different perspective of child rearing.  That for some, it might be okay to miss their child’s school play, or forget that its St. Patrick’s day and their child should be wearing a green t-shirt.  Personally, and I know not everyone is on the same page, I think if you choose to have a child that you should ‘finish your job’ and spend as much time as possible nurturing your child.  For me, it comes down to a personal value system, do you value ‘things-big house, fancy car or titles’ more than ‘people’-your family.  Finding the right balance is very individual.

4.       Advice for others:
I think RDs should expect more.  We are a highly educated group that plays a pivotal role in the health and wellbeing of our clients.  We are an important asset to the medical community and should expect fair compensation for our time and expertise. It’s clear that good nutrition practices are essential for health and longevity-our role in society is expanding and we need to meet the challenge and be first in line.  RDs need to position ourselves as the leaders in nutritional science-this will require solid and continual education, superior marketing skills, and staying on top of the latest in technology and trends.

Michelle Dudash, RD
Michelle is a dietitian, chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. She is also the mom of a 4-year-old and has been married for 8 years.  You can read more about Michelle in her Sound Bites interview.

1.       Top takeaways:
1. You can’t have or do it all.
Instead, prioritize the things that are most important to you. Learn to do things perfectly in only the things that matter. Don’t feel guilty about outsourcing tasks. Don’t feel guilty about having your husband do more housework or childcare.
2. Don’t leave before you leave.
Even though I am already married and have one child, those thoughts about, “oh, maybe I shouldn’t take that on because I want to have another child” have still crept up occasionally. The phrase “Lean In” is so appropriate. Once your husband or child or second children sprout up, then you can figure out how you will deal with it. Things always work out and where there’s a will, there’s a way. The reality is, if you work hard professionally and have a proven track record, your clients or employer will be accepting of whatever personal decisions you make, like taking maternity leave, working some days from home or traveling less.
3. Overall, the book was very eye opening as to inequalities in the workplace. Also, I discovered actions that women do to themselves that are not advantageous and slow growth. But this is empowering too, because many choices and behaviors lie in our hands.

2.       Is the dietetics profession different?
No, I don’t think our profession is much different. Sure, it is mostly skewed female, but many of the high level positions are still filled by men.
I don’t think it’s that we value service type work more, rather those are the options we are exposed or encouraged to go into at an early age.

3.  Personal story/example:
(see above “Don’t leave before you leave”)

4.       Advice for others:
Something I see creep up among personal acquaintances, but I bet rings true among women who are dietitians, too, is our relationships with men.

Marry someone because you love them and because they will be a good life partner and your best friend. Choose someone who is supportive of what you do and the decisions you make. Don’t allow yourself to get into the position of being helpless and trapped and unable to support yourself and your family because you’ve been out of the workforce for so long. I’ve seen it happen to women I know and it is tragic. I never want to be in that position, which is one reason I made sure to carve a career path that I love and want to do while still having a family. I want to work and love doing it.
Train your significant other how you want to be treated from the get-go. This will make things oh so much easier down the road.

Lisa Eaton Wright MS, RDN, LDN
Lisa is Wellness Coordinator at Moraine Valley Community College, President of the Illinois Dietetic Association, and Vice Chair of the Legislative & Public Policy Committee of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

1.       Top takeaways:
1. Always ASK!  I think for me, that’s a very important part of leaning in.  Put your hand up and keep it up!  How will you ever know if you don’t ask?!
2. Fake it until you make it!  Ignore the “impostor syndrome.”  “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”  “Opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.”  I, too, believe that success, however you define it, comes from hard work, help from others, being at the right place a the right time.
3. Women need to support and promote other women – let’s tell each other’s stories.  As the book suggests, substitute “we” for “I” wherever possible.  Avoid making our female peers feel guilty for making work/life choices different than our own.  There are many avenues to arriving at the same destination – and that’s okay.  Pick the one that works for you and let others do the same without repercussions from their female peers.  We’re all just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
4. Disappointment in reading that in a 2011 McKinsey report men are promoted based on potential while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. So right from the get-go, women have to do more/work harder to amass accomplishments.  Really?  Still?
5. Alarming:  That merit can be manipulated to justify discrimination!  Unbelievable.  See Page 152 about evaluating identically described male and female candidates for the job of police chief.  “When a male applicant possessed a strong education record, that quality was considered critical to the success of a police chief.  But when a male applicant possessed a weaker educational record, that quality was rated as less important.  This favoritism was not show to female applicants. If anything, the reverse happened.  When a woman possessed a particular skill, ability, or background, that quality tended to carry less weight.”  Pardon me, but can I just say how much that ticks me off?!!!!

2.       Is the dietetics profession different?
I do think many women are drawn to dietetics because of the servant leader nature of the profession – we are nurturers by nature and there’s no need to ignore that or forego what we enjoy doing.  But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to hold a leadership role, if that is what one desires.
At the end of the day, what do you want to do with your time and energy?  For me, this is a second career.  I wanted to work in the nutrition world.  I wanted to be involved with professional associations so that I could interact with people with similar interests.  I wanted to take it up a notch by leading my profession in whatever way that I can.  I want to be at the table.  I’ve chosen to sit at the table.  That’s where I find myself – at the table.  And I like it.  It brings both personal and professional satisfaction.  And I still get enough sleep so that I’m rested and energized to continue with the things that I’m passionate about on a daily basis.

3.      Personal story/example:
I have always wanted to lead as far back as I can remember.  When I was in high school I worked in the guidance office and had access to my student file that went back years.  My family moved to a new town when I started 3rd grade.  I loved my new 3rd grade teacher.  When glancing through my file, I found a written assessment she had completed mid-year and mine read, “Lisa is new to my class and the school this year and she has come in and taken over.”  Fortunately for me, she didn’t discourage me but rather encouraged me to lead my peers and instilled confidence in me at a young age.  I’d like to see all of us encourage those leadership skills in our youngest up through the ages, in our workplace, our homes, our communities.

4.       Advice for others:
•    I would always recommend asking for what you want.  Absolutely fake it until you make it – because you are capable of learning new skills.  I enjoyed reading the section on negotiating.  After my first year on the job as an RD, I took the Academy’s salary and compensation survey, went through and highlighted five key areas for my position; placed them in a memo format, and asked for additional pay based on current industry standards.  I got it because I utilized the tools available to me and presented that information with confidence.
•    Expect to sit at the table – and be prepared when you do.  I have always assumed I’d be sitting at the table.  I want to be where the decision makers are, particularly if those decisions affect me.  The only way to do that is to lean in.  But I think that fear of not being quite ready, not being good enough, not knowing enough, the timing’s not right keeps most of us from doing that.  “Women need to shift from thinking, “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.”
•    Communication is key – which is one of the reasons I always say, “Ask!”  How will anyone ever know that you want/need something if you don’t communicate.  But I loved the suggestion in the book about statements of opinion being communicated in the first person “I” form.  Switching from “You never take my suggestions seriously,” to “I feel frustrated that you have no responded to my last four e-mails, which leads me to believe that my suggestions are not important to you.”  One triggers disagreement; other other sparks discussion.”  Spark discussion, because you’ve got to start somewhere.
•    Demonstrate your leadership by leading – but continue to develop the skills if that’s truly what you desire to do.  I find myself attracted to books on leadership and read a couple a year.  I take the time to really observe effective leaders that I admire and incorporate their strengths into my leadership repertoire. I continually look for ways to turn my weaknesses into strengths – but it is a process.
•    “The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.”  I always talk about the importance of sleep, for me and the rest of the world.  As a nation, we glorify ‘busyness’ and putting in countless work/volunteer hours.  Well my personality is such that I exhaust myself – yes, exhaust.  Often by 9:00 pm, I’m done.  I let nothing and no one keep me from getting the rest that I know I need to get up and feel rested the next day.  So that’s my limit.  Set.  Done.
•    Remembering that “discussions may be difficult – but the positives many.  We cannot change what we are unaware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change!”
•    And finally, I love this new definition of leadership from Harvard Business School:  Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”  Indeed, “In the future, there will be no female leaders.  There will just be leaders.”  Ahhhhhhh!

More from Melissa:

On “the new normal”:
In the book, Sandberg shares a statistic that confirmed my gut feelings about parenting today compared to when I grew up.   She talks about the “new normal” – not just in the workplace, but in the home, too.  I couldn’t agree more with Sheryl’s memory of being a kid whose mother was “available but rarely hovering or directing my activities.”
Don’t get me wrong – I waited a long time to finally be a mother and I absolutely love spending time with my kids, but I’m keenly aware of how different things are today.  I have the fondest memories of growing up – riding my bike or playing outside with my brothers and friends, while my parents were out on the deck socializing with our neighbors.  Everything seemed right in the world.  I’m so appreciative of this fleeting time with my kids, but I do feel the pressure of trying to get everything done, spending time with my family, and then feeling like there’s no time left for me.  I know I’m not alone.  Literally!  And just for the record, I’m not complaining.  I’m just addressing the elephant in the room.  As Sandberg puts it “instead of ‘can we have it all?’ it should be ‘can we do it all?’”  Are YOU trying to do it all?  I remember one female boss (who had particularly high standards) telling me on more than one occasion: “Sometimes, good enough is just that.  Good enough.”  Words to live by.  But I do have to keep reminding myself!

Speaking of the “new normal” – one of the major challenges of working while raising a family is that kids get sick and someone needs to care for them.  Sandberg says “We have a long way to go before flextime is accepted in most workplaces…” and “…about 50 percent of employed mothers are unable to take time off to care for a sick child.”
About one year ago I left my part time job as a diabetes educator.  I had many reasons for leaving, however, one of the most frustrating reasons was because it was not flexible enough for me to care for our toddler (who was sent home sick from daycare about once a month).  I was the only RD/CDE in a high risk OB clinic.  There was no one to cover me if I had to leave work.  The high risk patients could not just come back a few days later – they needed to be seen that day (many of them needed me to start them on insulin immediately).  Of course I wanted to be with my son when he was sick, but I also needed to be there for our patients.  The situation was very stressful for me, strained my relationships with extended family and friends (who I tried to rely on for help), and unfortunately resulted in many misunderstandings both at work and at home.  I know working in direct patient care is a little different than some jobs and there are no easy answers.  But it really made me feel like the deck was stacked against me.  And it made me mad.  Fortunately for me, leaving that job opened up doors that allowed my own nutrition communications business to blossom and thrive!  So sometimes “leaning in” might mean knowing when to lean in a different direction.
One more thing…For those of you who heard rumors about Sandberg being judgmental about stay at home moms, there is plenty of discussion about this in the book and Sandberg clearly supports the hard work that stay at home moms do, saying: “No one should pass judgment on these highly personal decisions.”

On “success and likeability”:
Sandberg says “Most people, myself included, really want to be liked – and not just because it feels good.  Being liked is also a key factor in both professional and personal success.”  I was so thrilled to read this!  It’s reassuring to learn there is a real business strategy to this – and not simply about wanting to be liked!  I had to giggle when I heard about Lisa Eaton-Wright’s “3rd grade takeover” experience (above).  It reminded me of my Kindergarten report card which said “Missy is bossy with her peers!”  Whether that was true or just the teacher’s opinion, who knows?  Either way, I certainly “learned” over time that girls/women should “soften” their approach to be more effective and well-received.  Interestingly, old habits die hard and I catch myself being indirect with my children which only confuses them and clearly does not work!  If I say something as simple as “It’s supposed to rain today, you might want to take an umbrella” they probably won’t, so I have to force myself to stop and reword it to “It’s supposed to rain today – bring an umbrella!”
Do YOU sacrifice being successful for being liked?  Less than six months after Sandberg started at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg told her that “her desire to be liked by everyone would hold her back.  He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone.  If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.”

Another theme in the book is how women need to support other women!  I want to thank the wonderful women who supported me by taking the time to share their thoughts and feelings with me for this post.  I enjoyed hearing their stories and I hope you have, too.
Stay tuned for part two of this post where you’ll get to hear from dietitians Jean Caton and Maree Ferguson, plus former journalist and media trainer Mary Milla.

My final point is that, besides leaning in, you should also SPEAK UP!  So if you want to continue the discussion you can join the Lean In Community at
You can also visit for practical education and personal experiences that can help you reach your goals.  Here you can explore topics critical to your success – from negotiating effectively to understanding your strengths.

So what do YOU think?  Did YOU read the book yet?  Do YOU Lean In?  Please share your thoughts and reactions by posting a comment below or emailing me at


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ABOUTI’m the Guilt-Free RD® – “Because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!™”. So, on my Food for Thought blog I’m exploring the secret ingredients needed to enjoy your food with health in mind.  I’m also a “Dietitian Enthusiast” so I’m showcasing interviews with dietitians.  My “How To” Series shares practical advice to help boost communication skills and gain more visibility, influence and success.

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