Book Club: Lean In With a Men’s Book Club

My problem with Sandberg’s “Lean In” is that men who should read the book, who need to read the book, may not pick it up because it’s for women.

Most of the leadership books I’ve read are men’s books – leadership seen and practiced through the lens of men & masculinity in a business world developed by and and for men. I read, interpret, contextualize, and adapt the material through my lens as a Christian Asian American woman. But I read them. Lencioni. Maxwell. Depree. Covey. Rath & Conchie. Collins. Gladwell. Their books aren’t touted as men’s leadership development books, but they are written through that lens. Any personal stories included in the text reflect it. Sometimes their acknowledgements reflect it. And if I wanted to get really nit picky about it I would say most of these business leadership books (and even the Christian leadership books) are written through the lens of White majority male culture, even as our country’s population makes a shift away from a single majority.

My experience as an author for “More Than Serving Tea” only confirmed what I had suspected for years. The book was written by women for women, but never meant to be exclusively for women. Male pastors told me they had recommended the book to the women in their churches though they themselves had never read the book! Why not? Because why would a male pastor need to read a book that might minister and connect with more than half of their congregation?

So it came as a bit of a surprise to be asked to be a part of a book club discussion on “Lean In” with a group of Christian men. Deep respect for Fred Mok, English pastor at Chinese Church in Christ – South Valley in San Jose, CA, who cold-contact emailed me.

“I found your blog through your book and noticed you’ve been reading through ‘Lean In’.

 Our church men’s group  (4-5 guys) is going to be reading “Lean In” as our next book and would love to have a phone or Skype interview with you about the book as part of our club. This would be a great opportunity to get a prominent Asian American Christian woman’s perspective on some important issues.”
We set a time, and the men sent me the following set of questions to get me thinking about what they were wondering.
1) One of your recent blog posts mentions self-promotion. This is a value vital to success in Western society. But as Asian American Christians, we are not subject to those values. What might it look like to honor our Asian American communal and self-effacing heritage and lead in Western society without the arrogance of self-promotion?
2) Based on your blog post about “If I wasn’t Afraid?” you talked about Sandberg’s motivation “comes in to nudge me back”. What does that mean? What do you need to be nudged back from? Did you mean nudged forward, since Sandberg’s emphasis is to motivate women to be more aggressive in their approach to getting ahead in the workforce? But, if you did mean “nudged back”, then what conflicts as a Christian women and mother is nudging you back?
3)  In chapter 1, Sandberg discusses gender stereotypes and how this starts with children. (For example, bottom of page 20 and following.) Certainly it has been cited for many years, the types of toys given to boys versus girls, and the examples of wood or metal shop versus cooking classes. What is your ‘take’ on this?  To what degree is nature versus nurture playing a role?
4) To what degree does the church cast women into stereotypic roles? Can you discuss any personal examples?
5) How does being married to an Asian American man make it more difficult or easier to take a seat at the table? [does being married to an Asian American man put you at a disadvantage from someone like Sandberg? Do we, as Asian American men, have more expectations for our wives]
6) If you were to give advice to your daughter about pursuing a career, how close would you hew to Sandberg’s party line to “lean in”?
7) What’s it worth from a kingdom of God perspective for women to experience increased corporate advancement [Sandberg’s goal]? 
8) In chapter 4, Sandberg writes about careers are more like a jungle gym than a ladder – but what’s driving jumping from one job to another? From this chapter, it seems like money. Get in early and get rich. She says she joined Google because she believed deeply in their missions. What’s that? How did that change when she jumped to Facebook?
Easy. Right?
What I walked away with was a deep sense that our time on Skype was an example of iron sharpening iron. It’s easy for me to pontificate and then pat myself on the back after I blog. I don’t do this for a living. I have a limited readership. It’s a platform but not really. I have some skin in the game, but I can disappear for the summer like I did.
But when one of the men asked me why women needed a voice at the table, why did it matter that women aren’t equally represented in various public and private arenas I had to stay engaged and talk with him. He was being honest and sincere, not belligerent or snarky in the way a tweet or blogpost could be construed. He thought it was good for women to be in politics and business, but he really wanted to understand why this book and the issue of gender equality was so important to me as a sister in faith.
And I had to take a quick breath and not put up my guard, not go on the offensive and charge into the conversation like I had been attacked, because I hadn’t. I had to remind myself this wasn’t a debate, but I could learn to lean in by listening to his question and his tone of voice and responded honestly and openly.
I said women may have more opportunities open to them now, but because we haven’t legally been allowed in the game as long as men there was some catching up to do. I mentioned that women’s suffrage had been legally secured less than a century ago, that women have not had the same access to education, and that women are still paid less for the doing the same jobs men do. I talked about the challenges women of color face – the ugly complexity of racism combined with sexism. And that I stressed that because we women experience the world differently we bring a unique voice, leadership, and influence.
I also had space to explain that there is a time and place for men’s groups, just like the very book club these men had formed, but that even in that space there was a missing piece as they delved into a book written through a lens with which they were unfamiliar – a woman’s voice and experience.
And right then and there I think there was a moment of understanding. We may not fully understand each other, and we may not even fully agree with one another. But we can really hear, listen to, and learn from one another.


  1. Gail Vaughn Wallace August 28, 2013

    I am so impressed by the sincerity and depth of the questions the men posed. Quite encouraging, really!

    • Kathy Khang August 28, 2013

      Yes, I was a bit stunned when I got the list of questions. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’ll let that simmer. It was hardly enough time to really go deep into any one of those questions, but it was quite an opportunity. Despite having never met any of the men, it was a chance to trust one another, and that extension of grace and sincerity was a blessing.

  2. Hillary August 30, 2013

    Interesting questions, especially #5.
    Do you have a sense of how many of the men were married and if their wives were reading the book with them? More broadly, among those of us who are married and reading the book, how have the conversations with your husbands been?
    I’m grateful for my husband as a “real partner” and tangible support in countless ways. He accepts my quick summaries and musings as I read along, though generally speaking, feminism, sexism and racism are things he intellectually recognizes but are not part of his lived experience. Put another way, if I don’t bring it up – he probably wouldn’t see it (and sometimes it takes some convincing that the issues are real).

    • Gail Vaughn Wallace August 31, 2013

      Hillary, you’ve put into words what happens at our house as well. My husband is very sympathetic and interested in what I’m reading about feminism and sexism (and writing now at BUT it’s an intellectual understanding, not the deep learning that comes from having experienced something personally. The same is true of cross cultural understanding. I lived in Japan for ten years, and there were only three white families in our whole town, so I’ve been on the receiving end of prejudice, although most people were at least courteous. I was just a kid, though, I can’t imagine trying to forge one’s way in such situations as an adult.

    • Kathy Khang August 31, 2013

      They were all married, but the funny thing is it didn’t even dawn on me to ask if their wives were reading the book!

      I asked Peter to read the book because…just because. He found that he already knew many of the statistics perhaps because we spend a lot if time sharing with each other the things we are reading. He also works in an office where he is one of two men; the book gave him good insight into the dynamics he experiences everyday through a woman’s lens.

  3. Fred Mok September 3, 2013

    Kathy, thanks again for writing about our interview! We just finished our last meeting this past Sunday and we felt the book was ok overall – we disagreed with a lot but the dialogue we got to have with you was so precious.

    • Kathy Khang September 3, 2013

      Fred, I would love to read more about what your book club thought about the book. One of my readers asked if any of your wives had read or were reading the book as well, and, if they had, what were their thoughts on the book. Perhaps we could write something together?


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