Lately, it seems women in the U.S. are divided into two camps: Those who love Sheryl Sandberg, author of "Lean In," and those who don’t. Having read the book, this comes as no surprise to me. Here’s why: For the last 25 years, my company has studied what makes women tick. As a marketing research consultancy, we strive to delve into the psychology of women. With that said, we could have accurately predicted the polarized response we are seeing to this book.
"Lean In" will appeal to 26 percent of women 18-67 in the United States. I know this because we have extensively surveyed these women, and understand what values drive their behaviors and shape their perceptions. We analyzed Sandberg’s perceived values and compared them to what we know women value. Our conclusion: Sandberg, who highly values professional achievement, does not represent the perspective of the majority of women.
She expresses values through statements such as:
The women for whom this message will ring true fit a psychological profile that we refer to as “achievement-oriented.” They value power and wealth. Many of them work full-time, have a stronger-than-average work ethic, and their self-worth is linked to their professional success. About one-third of them have children younger than 18.
By comparing those traits with all other women, we found that achievement-oriented women actually have more in common with men than the other 74 percent of their own gender. For example:
Then there’s the tone of the book, which also has women on edge. Through repetition, certain words set a very distinct tenor. For example, "work," "career" and "leader" are used more than 100 times; "success" is used 92 times; "professional" is used 78 times.
Other words that could be considered more traditionally feminine are used far less frequently, such as “progress” (31 times), “strong” (23 times) and “balance” (17 times).
But while taking into account the target and tone, it’s important to remember what Sandberg herself tells us: “I learned from Fred that effective communication starts with the understanding that there is my point of view (my truth) and someone else’s point of view (his truth). Rarely is there one absolute truth, so people who believe they speak the truth are very silencing of others. When we recognize that we can see things only from our own perspective, we can share our views in a nonthreatening way.”
What Sandberg may not realize is that only about 26 percent of women share her truth -- and truly wish to lean in -- while the majority may, in fact, prefer otherwise.