Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

4.1 180
by Sheryl Sandberg

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Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in

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Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.”  She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home. 

Written with both humor and wisdom, Sandberg’s book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. Lean In is destined to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can.

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Editorial Reviews

I began reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead when the backlash against the book was just getting under way. Many of the columnists and bloggers who condemned the Facebook COO's manifesto on women and work clearly hadn't read it and were attacking not the message but the messenger, described snidely by Maureen Dowd as someone with a "grandiose plan to become the PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots reigniting the women's revolution." But despite what you may have heard, Lean In isn't the work of a tone- deaf elitist blaming other women for failing to achieve as much as she has; rather, it's an explicitly feminist rallying cry whose purpose is to help women make gains in the workplace.

Sandberg, who holds a B.A. and an M.B.A. from Harvard and was in on the ground floor of Google before moving to Facebook, is not blind to the reality that most women's circumstances are nowhere near as rarefied as hers. On the other hand, she refers early and often to the fact that women are generally struggling simply to make ends meet and provide for their families. Sandberg acknowledges that "parts of this book will be most relevant to women fortunate enough to have choices about how much and when and where to work."

Those very women are outpacing men in college and graduate school, but the "academic gains have not yet translated into significantly higher numbers of women in top jobs." Sandberg recognizes that women's progress is hindered by overt discrimination—unequal pay and inadequate parental leave, for starters. But the focus of her book is on the ways women hold themselves back, "by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be" — here's the conceit of the title — "leaning in." Far from denying that structural barriers exist, as some have claimed, she makes clear that she has "written this book to encourage women to...forge a path through the obstacles."

To that end, Lean In reads like a pep talk from someone who's been in a male-dominated game (Sandberg points out that she has never reported to a woman) long enough to have seen women sabotage themselves in all kinds of ways, from scaling back at work in the mere anticipation of having children to downplaying accomplishments because they worry that their ambition will come off as unseemly. Indeed, Sandberg herself cops to having made every mistake she writes about. A chapter with pragmatic advice for women on salary negotiation includes a revealing admission that she was reluctant to negotiate with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after his initial salary offer, which she found fair. It was only after her brother-in-law yelled, "Damn it, Sheryl! Why are you going to make less than any man would make to do the same job?" that she steeled herself and went back to Zuckerberg to demand an even better deal. "My brother-in-law didn't know the details of my deal," she writes. "His point was simply that no man at my level would consider taking the first offer." Here, as she does throughout the book, Sandberg supports her point with ample social science research, in this case citing studies demonstrating that women, much more than men, fear that negotiating for higher salaries will decrease their likability.

As with the salary-negotiation episode, Sandberg's forthright descriptions of her own experiences lend weight to the book. In some cases her candor is startling. "I worry constantly that my children are worse off because I'm not with them full-time," she admits, describing her young daughter clinging to her leg and begging her not to go on a business trip. Elsewhere she confesses to being intimidated by stay-at- home moms. The ideal she looks to is a world where men can more easily leave the workforce to care for children and more women have access to jobs like hers, which she considers rewarding enough to make the tradeoffs worthwhile.

Though she describes scenarios many women will relate to, Sandberg's advice is not one-size-fits-all, in part because of the unique culture of Silicon Valley and the privileged perch from which she's writing. She tells of a male intern advising Zuckerberg that he needed to improve his public speaking skills and being rewarded for his bluntness with a full-time job offer; it's not difficult to imagine such a risky display of chutzpah backfiring. She also recalls, as a new mother, locking her office door at Google and secretly pumping breast milk during conference calls; most women, of course, don't enjoy that level of privacy in their workplaces. And yes, her casual reference to flying on a corporate jet and the shout-outs to her buddies Gloria Steinem and Oprah in the acknowledgements highlight Sandberg's essential otherness. (When she mentions, gratefully, that she and her husband "can afford exceptional child care" and later refers to her "vast support system," my mind wandered from the book into a wistful daydream about what my life might be like with similar resources.)

But to demand that Sandberg's advice apply to all women, however, as some of her critics seem to, holds her to an impossible standard to which a man writing a similar book surely would not be subjected. Sandberg has spoken publicly on gender issues in the past, and in the book she anticipates the criticism that's already being heaped upon her. "My hope is that my message will be judged on its merits," she writes. To return to that salary negotiation with Mark Zuckerberg: some might wonder why they should care that the extremely wealthy Sheryl Sandberg managed to turn a good deal for herself at Facebook into an even better deal. But it's easy to picture women readers applying Sandberg's lesson to their own salary negotiations. Say what you like about the messenger — that's a message I wouldn't want to lose.

Barbara Spindel has covered books for Time Out New York, Newsweek.com, Details, andSpin. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies.

Reviewer: Barbara Spindel

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)


What People are saying about this

Jeff Immelt
Sheryl is a unique business leader because of her versatility and breadth. She has the two traits that are common in every successful leader I have known: curiosity and determination. Sheryl brings all of her insight to Lean In, an important new book that companies can use to get the most out of their talent. With her ideas and actions, Sheryl will help to define leadership in the years to come.—Jeff Immelt, CEO, General Electric
Condoleezza Rice
Sheryl provides practical suggestions for managing and overcoming the challenges that arise on the 'jungle gym' of career advancement. I nodded my head in agreement and laughed out loud as I read these pages. Lean In is a superb, witty, candid, and meaningful read for women (and men) of all generations.
—Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state
Wendy Kopp
To tackle society's most pressing problems we need to unleash the leadership of both women and men. Lean In shows us the path and is an absolutely invaluable resource for the next generation of leaders and those who support them.—Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO, Teach for America
Chelsea Clinton
Lean In poses a set of ambitious challenges to women: to create the lives we want, to be leaders in our work, to be partners in our homes, and to be champions of other women. Sheryl provides pragmatic advice on how women in the twenty-first century can meet these challenges. I hope women—and men—of my generation will read this book to help us build the lives we want to lead and the world we want to live in.—Chelsea Clinton
Sir Richard Branson
If you loved Sheryl Sandberg's incredible TEDTalk on why we have too few women leaders, or simply believe as I do that we need equality in the boardroom, then this book is for you. As Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg has firsthand experience of why having more women in leadership roles is good for business as well as society. Lean In is essential reading for anyone interested in righting the injustice of this inequality.—Sir Richard Branson, chairman, the Virgin Group
Mark Zuckerberg
For the past five years, I've sat at a desk next to Sheryl and I've learned something from her almost every day. She has a remarkable intelligence that can cut through complex processes and find solutions to the hardest problems. Lean In combines Sheryl's ability to synthesize information with her understanding of how to get the best out of people. The book is smart and honest and funny. Her words will help all readers—especially men—to become better and more effective leaders.—Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, Facebook
Alicia Keys
The key to opening some of life's most difficult doors is already in our hands. Sheryl's book reminds us that we can reach within ourselves to achieve greatness.—Alicia Keys
Jim Collins
Sheryl Sandberg has done a tremendous service with this work. It offers a vital and sharp message, for women and men. We need great leaders in key seats spread throughout all sectors of society, and we simply cannot afford to lose 50 percent of the smartest, most capable people from competing for those seats. Provocative, practical, and inspired! —Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

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Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead 4.1 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 180 reviews.
Transplanted_Southerner More than 1 year ago
I'm a man, and I picked up this book to see what successful women are doing to see if I might learn something. Why not pick up a pointer or two from somebody who's gone much further in her career--and with many more obstacles--than I have in mine? The list of things Sheryl Sandberg has done that I haven't is lengthy. Too many times I've not spoken up when I've had things to say. At work gathering after work gathering I've failed to sit at the table with key decision makers. Time and time again I downplay myself for fear I'll be seen as a self-promoter. The book reminded me of something I have done, however. I've moved cross country twice on account of my wife's career. Acknowledging that my wife's profession had more upside than my own wasn't easy, and I feel fortunate that none of my family and friends criticized me for supporting her. Sandberg's book taught me that other men are not so lucky. I knew of the challenges that women face if they choose to assert themselves in traditionally male dominated careers, but I never appreciated the gender based scrutiny and criticism men face when they choose to support them. Husbands and wives shouldn't have to consider gender related stereotypes when deciding who works outside the home and who works in it. Simply pick the best person for the jobs. I give the book 4 stars instead of 5 because I think it spends too much time telling men and women to remove gender from their decisions and not enough telling them specifically how.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a  young woman entering the business world, I found this book incredibly helpful and relatable. I currently have no marriage prospects, but I already have a fear that one day I will have to choose between family and career. Sandberg  made realize that not only am I not alone with this concern, but it is also possible to do both. Her insight, advice, and fun stories kept me up long into the night; I couldn't put the book down. I am so glad I read this book at such a young age. I highly recommend this book to driven females and males of all ages. I also want to comment on a few of the negative posts.  Yes, Sandberg went to Harvard and was the daughter of a doctor. I don't see how this is relevant. She still had the grades to get into Harvard and had the drive and skills to become successful. Not many people will have the same opportunities as she did but every one can relate to the concrete advice she gives you on how to succeed. The fact that people are talking about this issue at all is a gender bias. There are plenty of men leaders who were born with a silver spoon but the comments on that subject are rare. Secondly, Sandberg does not make any negative comments about mothers who stay at home. She mentions many, many times that she respects those women and realizes an executive position isn't everyone's dream. This book is for women who want to succeed and want to balance work and family life. This doesn't mean we are better or worse than the stay at home moms; it simply means we are different. If you do not have the drive to succeed in the business/work/volunteer world, this book is simply not for you.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't normally read career books so it was significant that I was excited to read this one. I enjoyed reading this book which has a lot of examples and plenty of research. By the end of the book, I was encouraged to take a serious look at my career and personal goals and how my own behaviors may be holding me back from attaining those goals. I would recommend this book to all my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So, being a female member of management on her way up in one of the nation's largest grocery retailers, I had to pick up this book to find out how Sheryl did it and what all the excitement is about. My company has been around for 100+ years and I am proud to say that not only do we have women at the top, but those women are helping other women get there (through networking, real mentorship, and organizations within that promote help and promote women in getting where they want to go: all these helped me realize that I don't necessarily what to be a president but rather the TEACHER of our next one!) What was once a traditional man only club has offered ways for women and minorities to take advantage of opportunities we did not have 25 years ago. With that being said, it does come with a cost for time and time into your "other life" outside of the store. Books like these have helped me shape what I will become later for my company. I am very dedicated and loyal but have often times wondered why grocery retail? I want to provide great customer service for customers and a working environment that makes them want to come back each day for associates that are as loyal has I am. We are far from ideal but Sheryl is right. We will not be "balanced" until we see it for ourselves and DO IT, what we know is right for our families. Her book is for that middle management female on her way up who thinks that working every day and every night, email here, email there, nights away from your kids, is the only way. Ladies, your bosses go home and turn off their blackberries! I have had the pleasure of working with so many leaders in my career who have always told me to spend more time with my son., because the see how much they missed with their kids. After reading Sheryl's book, I can see now how I have missed so much and didn't have to. I can still be GREAT and have my other life, too. I had to figure out that my other life is my first life and in the few weeks since reading the book, I have made small steps in the direction that includes my son and my husband more (no more checking email when my son is awake and I am off, no working on projects during my time off, planning better during the week to get projects off my task lists so that I can have this time with my family). Probably the most important point Sheryl drives home is not taking your spouse for granted. I am that very lucky woman who has a husband who is the primary caregiver of our son, who has moved with me for a job opportunity within my company, who does not take opportunities for himself within his company because he sees the future ahead for mine, cooks and cleans, and puts up with my out of balance life. My husband is a saint and Sheryl has shown me that my husband truly is my life partner and that without him I would not be where I am today. He deserves my time, my attention, and an afternoon in his lazy chair while I entertain our kid. If Sheryl's book does anything for anyone, and no we don't all have companies that we work for that have all the features she describes, but if you can take some of her messages and apply them to your unbalanced life, how much better would it be? I do recommend this book for anyone who is moving up within their company, the men who support them and need to understand why this woman is the way she is, and I recommend this to any mentor of any aspiring associate who needs balance before she gets to where she is headed.
sportygirl12 More than 1 year ago
It takes courage and a boldness to expose these topics. I applaud her and have found each chapter enlightening and relatable. As a female working in a predominately male organization - I found it helpful. From "Sit at the Table" to giving yourself credit where credit is due - gave me motivation and confidence to lean in. It's not sad by any means to find the balance, to empower yourself, and in the end become a role model/better mom for your children.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
 The book is engaging and a quick read, but adds little new to the discussion of women in the workplace.  I was hoping to get more out of this book than I did.  However, Sandberg's personal experiences are interesting and worthy of reading.
Todays_Working_Woman More than 1 year ago
Question: When is a book not a book. Answer: When it has 37 footnotes by the 24th page. Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg is nothing more than a thesis paper thinly disguised and marketed by the publishing company as the next "it" book for women. Well...not all women; at least in my mind. Why, you ask? The reality is that most women are never going to get the opportunity to work in a Fortune 500 company as an executive. Now that's not to say that women won't have opportunities to work in large or mid-size corporations. Let's face it. Most top level jobs are already taken, and if the company is worth its salt, the chance for advancement is slim because those at the top like their jobs and tend to stay, especially when the company is well established and appreciates their staff. So what kind of message is Ms. Sandberg sending to the average American woman? On the surface, I can't quite figure it out. Perhaps we need to dig a little deeper here. If her book is merely a dissertation on the battle between the sexes and the inequality of paychecks, then sadly, the author is really behind the times and she hasn't told us anything that we haven't already heard. However, if she is saying that we, as women, will never be happy unless we occupy every top level executive position in the country, well then, I beg to differ? What if our mothers decided they didn't want to be our mothers and just wanted to climb that corporate ladder, then where would we be? What if I don't want to be a top level executive at a Fortune 500 company? Can't I be happy doing exactly what I am doing right now? What if I don't want to be a leader? What if there are other women who don't want to be leaders? Is being a leader the only road to happiness? I think not. I have a lot of will and ambition, but my desires don't necessarily point me in that direction. But, let's take this a little further. Ms. Sandberg says on page 10 (Kindle version) that she "would never advocate that we should have the same objectives. Many people are not interested in acquiring power, not because they lack ambition, but because they are living their lives as they desire....We each have to chart our own unique course and define which goals fit our lives, values and dreams." This is great, however, the overall message of the book makes it seem that the only correct life choice that we, as women, should have is to be on that corporate ladder climbing toward the top rung to obtain equality. She says on page 10 (Kindle version) "If we succeed in adding more female voices at the highest levels, we will expand opportunities and extend fairer treatment to all." Now that the author has highly advocated that we, as women, should go for that top rung, and we succeed in adding more women to top level positions, where's the guarantee that fairer treatment and equality will occur? Also, while I thank her for supporting us in making choices, but then tell us in the next breath that we, as women, should all be leaning into our careers to level the playing field just seems to send out a mixed message. And, let's not even talk about the underlying subtext of the "you should be doing it this way because this is the way I did it, I know it works, and you will be successful and happy if you do it this way." With so many inconsistencies throughout this book, it makes it difficult to see what the real point is here. To circle back around to the very beginning of my review, this entire book reads like a master's thesis paper for one of Sandberg's Harvard classes. While I can appreciate the fact that she loves to "rely on hard data and academic research" (page 9, Kindle version), some of us would have just preferred her thoughts on the subject backed up by her real life experiences. The 227 footnotes is a little excessive and limits the audience from any opportunity to flush out the details, not to mention the loss of flow while reading due to constantly having to flip back and forth between the book and the footnotes. How are we as the readers suppose to know if these thoughts are really hers or those that were referenced? And, who really has time to read through, in depth, all of these footnotes, including researching the sources of those said footnotes? Certainly not myself. Now, I will admit that there are some principals in this book that can be followed and adapted to fit every women's life. (Note: It took until almost the last couple of chapters to find some kernals of wisdom. Any hope of finding something earlier in the book is simply lost within the text stemming from the research and footnotes.) Perhaps these few morsels were the real intent of the book, but the message simply was too muddied up in her intelligentsia. As a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business school, there is no doubt that Sheryl is a smart woman; however, she would have better served her audience if she had spoken to us and not above us. As a college graduate, I have the capability of dissecting and extrapolating information; however, others might not be able to do so, or if they were it would be with great difficulty. Perhaps there is something here, I just don't see it. Maybe it got lost in the translation. Overall, I think the message to "lean in" to "whatever" could have been delivered with a little less reliance on statistics and information from other sources. The one thing the book failed to mention is after we, as women, work so hard to get to the top rung, what do we do when we get there? It seems that the author and her colleagues have spent too much time climbing the corporate ladder, missing out on having some fun and losing the opportunities to be truly creative and produce something that will leave a lasting mark on the world, other than to say, I was the CEO/COO (or some other high level position) of such and such company. As for me, I would rather not strive for the top rung, but hang back a few steps, and enjoy the creativity and fun afforded to me at that level while enjoying life a whole lot more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellect, insightful look at what motivates and hinders women in the work place. This book is not only a great read for any woman, but any manager, or employer who seeks to grow and improve his work force. Lean In uses personal stories, scholarly studies, and collected data to educate the reader about this relevant and important topic. It is well written, and one finds himself (herself!), looking foward to the next chapter. This book has left it's mark on me, I venture that anyone who thoughtfully reads it will be impacted in a positive way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just want to express my gratitude to the author and BN; I enjoy reading every single page. She is insightful, articulate and passionate about her views. It is exceptionality well written. I love how she dismantle all the common views we as women have about ourselves. I love the chapter on “Are you my mentor? “It’s truly open your eyes on what it is to be a mentor and what it takes to have someone mentoring you, I was always going about it the wrong way . Thanks to her I know understand what someone feels when they are asked to be a mentor. Seriously LOVE this book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book! Would make a great gift for the graduating college senior.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well, it's hard not to be disarmed by someone who, in the first few pages, tells you that she spent the nine months of her first pregnancy bent over a toilet, gained 70 pounds, and couldn't recognize her feet. Not long after that, she tells you that she felt like a failure when she got a divorce in her twenties. Sandberg's willingness to model that for which she argues, and share her stories, be vulnerable (lean in) increases the books authenticity and increases the likelihood that the reader will be receptive to what she's trying to say, and be motivated to internalize those messages. She wisely acknowledges that her call for women to lean in does not mean that men and businesses and the like don't have some leaning in to do as well, and also that leaning in is not the right choice for all women, all the time. Having dispensed with those inevitable rejoinders, she moves swiftly and crisply through her thoughts (carefully well-supported by data) on women, work, and leadership. She's less about how to do something--sit at the table, for example--than about why she believes that something is important. This more cerebral orientation also aids the book's brisk pace. I think it would be easy to see this book as only for women who have both families, and careers (whether they love those careers or not), who probably make choices with which they feel uneasy every day. There is tremendous value in Lean In's validation of the difficulty of navigating these roles and making these choices. But I hope others read this book, too. I think the only thing you need to be to see the value of living in the world for which Sandberg hopes--the one in which you do as you've dreamed without internal and external obstacles holding you back--is a person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As with all "self help" books, not all scenarios and advice apply to everyone but this is a good book for women (and men) looking to understand corporate culture. I also recommend Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very nice book! Gives a sense to achieve something in the world by providing a strong example that the world is changing. Aptly she is COO Facebook. She is the one of the strongest (and richest) Face of a long lost Book called Woman, which is now being opened to world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although my circumstances are different this book showed me that leaning in is beneficial in every walk of life. Those of us who do not lean in are often afraid and that fear can steal our success.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very overrated. Very insulting to women, especially women who work.
TTMonster More than 1 year ago
This is the best thing I've read in a long time. Far from the typical women's business book, Sandberg mixes solid advice with stories from her life. This should be required reqding for every woman as she climbs the ladder- and for her male bosses along the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this should be a must read for women in business school.  
10527759 3 months ago
amazing book, so much great points brought up and super inspiring !
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BeachRead245 More than 1 year ago
I recently found a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In in the donations for the Friends of the Library Book Sale. It intrigued me and I thought that I might check it out. So come take a seat at the table and lean into my thoughts on Lean In. In this book Sheryl shares with us about modern feminism. She begins by discussing the history of the Womens’ movement. It is important to see how important the work of this movement influences the current generation. She takes us through the past and uses several sociological studies to support her conclusions. The topics mostly focus on the struggle for women to grow and maintain leadership in the job force. Do women really need to have permission to join the good old boys network? Can we expect true partnership with a future mate or our current mate in marriage? Are men open to the possibilities of including women? In the work place what is defined as true mentorship of a colleague? How can women gain this type of mentorship? Is there still room to grow for both genders? My Thoughts: I was very interested in Sheryl’s message to women. She expresses the message very well through using both the sociological studies and her own experiences. Her ultimate message is that we women need to stick together. We also need to be considered equals with our male counterparts. I hope that this is something that we can see growth in the future. I hope that true partners are available in the future. I would attribute much of Ms. Sandberg’s success to networking. She had the right contacts to move forward in her career. She also is obviously gifted in the business field. I agree with her that networking is the key to moving forward in any career. I still struggle with wanting to stay at a company rather than looking for the necessary pieces to move forward to the next opportunity. You can check out various Lean In communities on Facebook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eye opener, I always only considered that we as women were held back by external factors. This book helped me to recognize the internal things we do that hold us back as well. Excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read.
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