10 Empowering Books to Read After You ‘Lean In’

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 12, 2019
10 Empowering Books to Read After You Lean In

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In changed conversations about women and work. Five years later, we’ve seen moves forward and backward. The global #MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment into the light, and women’s marches have shown new political flexing. At the same time, pervasive issues facing working women remain. Picking up where Sandberg left off, a number of inspiring female authors have taken up her call and penned their own works to help us navigate work, home and balancing both:


The Gutsy Girl Handbook by Kate White

The former Cosmopolitan editor brings the magazine’s “fun, fearless, female” style to this wide-ranging career manual. The book is especially notable for its advice to young women about how to stand out in a good way in a first job or internship. She emphasizes the kind of hustle necessary to get a career off the ground, offering practical tips such as her “four B’s” exercise that has us asking if our idea could be “better, bigger, bolder, or more badass.” This media savvy book also encourages readers to think about their personal brand, a new way of thinking through professionalization for the 21st century.

Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett

If a woman has been in a job long enough, she’s likely to become disillusioned by workplace sexism. Never fear, Jessica Bennett’s book, subtitled “A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace” offers cheekily written and illustrated, but surprisingly practical, tactical maneuvers for changing sexist workplace cultures. This immensely readable book coins a number of humorous new terms; in addition to the now widely used mansplaining, Bennett identifies other workplace targets such as bropropriation (when a man presents a woman’s idea as his own), as well as the insidious undermine-her (who calls women around the office girls or kiddos). This is a call to collective action, offering concrete tips for women to support one another, as well as concrete tips for requesting a raise or stopping pathological interrupters in their paths.

Related: Why Mentally Strong Women Don’t Fear Breaking the Rules


Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by Tiffany Dufu

Blurbed by none other than Sandberg herself, Tiffany Dufu’s book argues that for women who are leaning in at work but find themselves doing too much at home, the solution may be to radically lean out in the domestic sphere, or “dropping the ball” as she puts it. In a refreshingly honest account of her own marriage and home life, Dufu lays bare her frustrations with a well-meaning but clueless husband who leaves her with too much of the childcare and household duties. Her solution? To let things go and embrace imperfection. Beyond the enjoyable time spent with Dufu and her lovely family, the book offers a clear-eyed look at the way women and men relate at home, diagnosing such recognizable patterns as women’s tendency towards “home control disease,” which treats men as domestic incompetents and leaves women shouldering too much of the burden.

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

When Gemma Hartley wrote about her exhaustion from managing her household last year, the article went viral. Women worldwide recognized their own marriages in the description of an exhausted woman who keeps track of her family’s day to day. Different than the domestic labor of cleaning, cooking and childcare that is more easily outsourced, Fed Up looks into the invisible work that includes emotional caretaking and organization: the birthday and trip planning, the organization of summer camps, the care work of calling extended family, and so on. Hartley’s book brings this under-considered work into the light and calls for women and men to equally share in the emotional care for a family’s well-being.

Work-Life Balance

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time by Laura Vanderkam

Time-tracking guru Laura Vanderkam asked high-income working mothers to track their time. What she found is inspiring. Women can indeed make time for family and career, and not by killing themselves in the process. Instead, what Vanderkam uncovers is the immense creativity of women who make work-life balance work in large part by challenging norms: What if quality mealtime happens over breakfast instead of dinner? What if the workday is divided up such that two hours take place after the children go to bed? Young women sometimes avoid big careers because they fear it will mean not having a family. By collecting data on powerful women who also have happy families, Vanderkam’s book offers a powerful argument to the contrary.

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington

Media maven Arianna Huffington is no slouch. But after her own encounter with burnout that led her to collapse at her desk, she has begun proselytizing for a saner definition of success that includes a balanced, healthy life. In Thrive, Huffington argues that all the money and power in the world do not matter if we do not have lives that include less tangible forms of wealth such as wonder, connection and an overall sense of well-being. To achieve a more holistic form of success and combat burnout, she draws wisdom from scientists to artists to great thinkers past and present and prescribes simple tweaks such as walking, mediation and gratitude. These solutions aren’t in themselves novel, but they feel fresh and persuasive packaged in Huffington’s distinctively passionate style.


Women and Money by Suze Orman

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, personal finance expert Suze Orman has updated her money classic. Much of her advice remains the same; this is a book asking women to wake up to their finances and become financially literate, something that’s always been important given that most women will end up alone by the ends of their lives, whether widowed or divorced. What’s new in this edition is the political urgency. In the #MeToo era, Orman reminds us that money is power, including the power to remove ourselves from bad situations.

When She Makes More by Farnoosh Torabi

In When She Makes More, Farnoosh Torabi tackles the emotional and interpersonal side of an important sea change: the rise of the female breadwinner. While some of the tips about managing a husband’s ego can feel retrograde, Torabi’s statistics about the changing nature of marriage are fascinating; for example, her note that more young women than men are likely to rate career as a high priority, or the statistic that men who are dependent on a wife’s income are more likely to cheat. Beyond opening up a conversation about the emotional side of money, Torabi also offers some concrete suggestions for managing the messy emotions, including “hiring a wife” to do household chores or setting strict gift-giving limits so that happy occasions don’t become opportunities for economic-marital dissatisfaction.


Sharp: Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean

With profiles on the likes of author Dorothy Parker and film reviewer Pauline Kael, Michelle Dean’s examples come from a time when, as she says, the world “was not eager to hear women’s opinions about anything.” But what an impoverished world it would be had these women kept their mouths shut and pens still. Dean’s overview of witty, opinionated women may be just what the doctor ordered for those moments when we feel down, silenced or insecure.

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

In this gorgeous coffee table book, Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney profiles creative women in their workspaces. In addition to the advice dispensed in interviews—musician-writer-actor Carrie Brownstein offers this gem: “Cry. It’s like a reset button”—the photos of office spaces, studies, studios and kitchens are enough to inspire.

Related: Why You Need to Embrace Your Ambition 

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Katherine Fusco is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she teaches film, theory, and American literature. She is the author of Silent Film and U.S. Naturalist Literature: Time, Narrative and Modernity (Routledge) and Kelly Reichardt (University of Illinois). Currently, Katherine is working on a book about stardom and questions of identity in the 1920s and 1930s. Katherine has appeared in The Atlantic, Dilettante Army, Harpers Bazaar, Headspace, OZY and Salmagundi; you can find her blog on motherhood and creativity at CreateLikeAMother.blog.