Book review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I’ve restarted reading personal finance, leadership & business books. I’ve decided to write short reviews for those looking for material to read, because I get asked for book recommendations quite often.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013)

This book is essentially a follow-up to a TED talk that Sheryl Sandberg ( currently COO of Facebook, previously VP of sales for Google) gave in 2010. The TED talk caused quite a ruckus. Sheryl is considered one of the most powerful women in the world, with a net worth estimate of 1 billion dollars.

Main idea

The book is based on the discussion around whether the following fact can be changed (which she also starts with in her TED talk):

Women are NOT making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. (Representation of women hovers at 5-15% at higher levels in any field)

This statement in itself always causes people to react strongly. There are generally three ‘objections’ to dismiss the issue:

1) well, it’s still better than before (doing better than the 50’s is not a mark of pride 65 years later!)

2) it’s not about the gender; it’s about personal skill (implying that women don’t and never will have equal skills to men because they’re just bad)

3) change will take time.(it’s 2015, when?)

Estonia as a country is one of the worst examples of gender equality in the Western world & Europe. Currently Estonia has the highest pay gap (30%), representation of women in politics and business is also an issue. So, whatever you feel might be the cause of this issue, it’s at least reasonable to admit that this is an issue that should be discussed. (One I’ve had to discuss so much after creating the Women’s Investment club that I’m reaching incredible levels of being done with highly sexist arguments I have to counter.)

The good and the bad

This is a book that was clearly filling an existing gap, which explains the incredible popularity of it. The popularity was of course greatly helped by having been written by such a famous individual.

The main emotion I got from reading the book was “oh, I’ve had that experience as well”. Sandberg and her co-authors have clearly managed to pen down a lot of the troubles that (ambitious) women encounter both socially and in a work environment. I appreciated that the book didn’t just stick to anecdotal evidence but heavily referenced previous research on the topic, giving more validity to the claims that she was making.

The book has an easy way of discussing topics that are heavily loaded and still somewhat controversial such as:

1) success and likeability tend to be inversely correlated when it comes to women (read into the “Ban Bossy” project)

2) women systematically underestimate themselves and are less likely to own their success

3) the issue of whether or not women are the natural caregivers in the family or of it’s mostly social pressure

4) difficulty of finding mentors and the pressure to be “one of the boys”

5) the myth that having a career and having a family can both be done fully

The book of course has received a lot of criticism because at times its not consistent and the advice it offers is sometimes a bit simplified. However, the issues it brings up are real, even if the solutions may not always work.

Who should read this book?

This book should be obligatory reading to all women who are ever hoping to build a successful career in any area. It helps systematize several things you’re likely to intuitively know or have experienced previously. This should also be obligatory reading to anyone who ever wants a leadership position where they run a mixed gender team to understand the underlying issues that are likely to prevent the teams from working at full capacity. Mixed gender teams are shown to work better, and genuine talent is being missed out on because of stereotyping.

This book is probably not for people who feel that feminism isn’t something that’s needed in the year 2015 or who genuinely feel that the lack of representation in case of women is completely to blame on them not doing enough (and I’ve met some people who think like this in my life!)

Personally, the book gave me quite a lot of food for thought. I’ve experienced several issues mentioned and I’ve always been annoyed by the fact that successful women tend to get a lot of negative criticism for things that men get praised for. I’m also saddened that in the year 2015 we really still need to talk about the issue of gender equality so much, and it’s genuinely not getting better; in some countries it’s even getting worse.

Taxes 2014, mortgage

There are only a few tax cuts available for individuals in Estonia. The three most common being the tax cut you get for having a child under the age of 18, for having paid some sorts of school fees or the tax cut you get on interest paid on your home loan.

The usefulness of this tax cut

Essentially the mortgage tax cut means that the interest you pay towards your mortgage is tax free, meaning you get back 21% (2014 income tax rate) from the government. This is essentially seen as a way for the government to help citizens in getting their own homes. I’m somewhat ambivalent on this tax cut. While it is of course nice, then it’s not really what will make it or break it if you’re actually looking into buying a home.

This tax cut is the one most likely to disappear as well, there’s been quite a lot of discussions about its usefulness in the media recently and well, the government needs money! I’m not really going to miss this cut when it disappears since it’s been reduced once already to limit its usefulness. Numbers wise, taking into account the tax return the effective interest rate of my mortgage is <2%, which is nice, but it being over 2% wouldn’t hurt much either.

Currently the cap of interest that’s tax free is 1920€. For my mortgage the interest payments for the year 2014 were 1200€, so we’re not even taking advantage of the full scale of the cut. Overall it comes to about 240€ in returned money, and that essentially covers the income tax I’d have to pay for my investments with a bit left over that’s going straight back into investments.

My Bondora portfolio (2015, January)

Times are interesting in social lending! The new portfolio manager has caused a bit of chaos and a lot of uncertainty, meaning that the market is actually very good currently for those who are looking for good deals manually. It’s also super easy to enter the market right now, since getting a lot of loans out quickly is doable due to the amount of people not using their portfolio managers.

januaryinvestments

January actually ended for me with the lowest amount of delayed loans for several months. It was a decent amount of recovery as well, so I can’t really complain. The biggest annoyance is the fact that the pie chart above is a lie! So many loans bounce now that the new manager has been activated that the “green” portion of your chart is showing absolute nonsense. As always, no fixes for the cash flow page either.

januaryinvestmenttotal

The amount invested is slowly climbing up, I’m hoping that this will make a real push in interest returns this year as well. January ended with 90,57€ earned in interests, meaning that while 100€ is out of reach for February since it’s a short month it might be possible in March, or definitely in April (at least combined with Moneyzen it will be reached.)

interestearned

The plan for this year is to hit at minimum 150€ in interest earned by December. That means a bigger investment push at the start of the year.

New loans

Since the new portfolio manager is a bit hyperactive when it comes to giving out money then I limited it to a fairly conservative strategy of giving out loans to only the five highest credit groups. I let it run all groups, but that ended up getting me way too many Spanish and Finnish loans. Once I rebalanced it and started picking loans by hand it balanced a bit better. Still, i have only 50% Estonian loans this month and 35% in Finnish loans and I’m OK with such a division. It’s sure though, that if you run the PM you will end up diversifying across the board in terms of countries. I’m generally OK with Finland since they’ve managed to get their risk assessment working, but I will be keeping away from most Spanish HR loans.

newloansjanuary

 

Definitely going to be an interesting year. Luckily some more dedicated people are starting to analyse the data set, giving us more confidence in the new credit model.