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Lean In – by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In – by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In is all about maximising your career. In parts, it’s about how we all do things that sabotage our own opportunities, and in others it’s directly targeted at women, such as how they approach juggling the demands of family and work at the same time.

Things are different for women at work compared to men, especially in the more senior positions. Sheryl Sandberg, is rated as one of the top 5 most powerful woman in Forbes and has MUST READ advice for all ambitious woman that want to have a successful career. The book covers topics like:
– likeability vs success
– picking the right partner (who is an equal partner)
– the need to ‘lean in’, especially at the critical parts of your career before you take on the responsibilities of child birth.

‘Women, Work and the Will to Lead’


Lean In Summary

Sheryl Sandberg, is rated as one of the top 5 most powerful woman in Forbes and has MUST READ advice for all ambitious woman that want to have a successful career.

Sheryl tells the story of when she flew into New York for a series of pitches from private equity firms to get investment. During the first meeting in a corporate office high above Manhattan, it was going well. Then during the break, Sheryl asked for the women’s restroom. The guy stared blankly at her then turned to one of his colleagues to ask… ‘How long have you been in this office?’ Asked Sheryl. They’d been there a year. ‘So am I the first woman to set foot in this office in a whole year??’

At Sheryl’s graduation, there was a mix of male and female – but at the senior level she has noticed she is the only female. Where did they go?

The Leadership and Ambition Gap 

Professional ambition is expected of men – but it is optional, or even worse – negative for woman. Many have argued that woman are not less ambitious, but insist on more enlightened and more meaningful goals, like raising children, personal fulfilment, contribution and improving the lives of others. From a very early age, boys are encouraged to take charge and offer their opinions. Teachers interact more with the boys, call on them more frequently. They are more likely to put their hand up.

The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophecies. With pay, men generally earn more, so people expect woman to earn less.

For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and fulfilling personal life. For woman, the assumption that trying to do both is too difficult or impossible at worst. ‘Ambitious’ is a positive thing for men, but almost a derogatory word when used for a woman: ‘she’s very… ambitious’ (bossy, assertive, dominant, controlling, micro-managing, doesn’t care about her kids).

 Success and likeability 

In 2003, in the Columbia Business School there was a study about a real life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. They described her story about how she became a venture capitalist by using her ‘outgoing personality’ and vast professional network that included many powerful business leaders’. Half the students read the story about Heidi and made their assessments on what they thought of her.

The other students read the same story with one different, they changed “Heidi” to “Howard”. The students rated them equal in competency, however Howard came across as more an appealing colleague. Heidi on the other hand, was seen as selfish and “not the kind of person you would want to hire or work for”.

This experiment supports the previous research that showed, success and likeability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for woman. When a men gets more successful, we like him more. When a woman does, we like her less. Our stereotype of men holds that they are providers, decisive and driven. Our stereotype of woman is that they are caregivers, sensitive and communal.

 Don’t leave before you leave 

During the same years that our careers demand maximum time investment, a woman’s biology demands that they have children.

A young girl at Facebook came to Sheryl at her desks and asked questions with urgency, all about her balance of work and life and kids. Sheryl asked “do you have kids?’, and the girl said “no”, and it turned out she didn’t even have a husband!

The message early is that by the time woman are in college, they are already thinking of the trade-offs  they will make between professional and personal goals. When it comes to integrating career and family planning, too far in advance they can close many doors. Woman don’t make one big decision to leave the workforce, they make many little decisions along the way. They leave before they leave.

An ambitious young successful woman heads down a challenging career path, with the thought of having children back in her mind. At one point the thought moves to the front of her mind. She considers how hard she’s working and then scales back.

Since woman start this mental preparation so early, several years pass between thought and conception, let alone birth. By her young employee at Facebook, maybe even a decade. By the time the baby arrives the woman is likely to be in a drastically different place in her career than she would have, had she not leaned back

The months and years leading up to having kids is not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in.

The birth 

The birth of a child instantly changes how we define ourselves. Women become mothers, men become fathers. Couples become parents. Our priorities shift in fundamental ways. Parenting may be the most rewarding experience, but it is also the hardest and most humbling

One of the big questions at the start is, who will provide primary care for the child?

A Harvard study found that the people who had reached the age of 40, only 56% of woman remained in the workforce and 90% of men. Whenever there is a baby we say “congratulations” to the man and “congratulations, what are you going to do about work” to the woman.

The career is like a long gruelling  marathon, at the start men and woman are equally fit and trained. The male runners get cheered on, “looking strong! On your way!”. The female runners hear “You know you don’t have to do this”, or  “good start, but you probably won’t want to finish”. As it continues, external voices and internal voices question their decision to keep running. As they run towards the end, spectators start shouting “why are you running when you have children at home?”

Make Your Partner a Real Partner 

One father Sheryl knew, described taking care of his child one night as ‘babysitting’. She’s never heard a woman refer to it like this. Half the men listed their children as ‘hobbies’. For most mothers, kids are not a hobby.

Of the fortune 500 CEOs that were woman, the few that were, they said they “could not have succeeded without the support of their husbands, helping with the children and household chores, and showing a willingness to move”. Having a partner like this is rare, we expect woman to be nurturing and don’t have the same expectations for men.