Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, is a gift for all of us in many ways. Sheryl has created a maelstrom of conversation that should help both men and women examine their careers for opportunities and flaws. All of us need to consider whether we are actually “leaning in” or “leaning out,” or combining the best of both.
The good news
Sheryl’s best seller creates dialogue for the conference table and dinner table. In December 2010, she gave a TED Talk that drew overwhelming interest.
According to the book, only 16 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. With approximately 14 percent of the top jobs in America going to women, I share her enthusiasm for more women in leadership roles. She doesn’t indicate that women should be more like men, but looks at the need for women to believe in their capabilities and overcome their fears. Of course, we see differences between male and female leaders, but we might have a kinder, gentler, more collaborative work world, if more women would grasp leadership roles, or “lean in” to the job with full steam.
To cope with leadership roles, she emphasizes that household tasks, as well as major work projects, must be negotiated. She states clearly that our life partners must take more responsibility, as long hours are expected. Our electronic devices keep us connected at all hours in global jobs.
The bad news
I don’t think Sheryl’s world looks like most of ours. Her Harvard education and networking relationships obviously helped her to the top, along with her intelligence and drive. I certainly have no friends named Ari Emanuel (brother of Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago), who is listed in her acknowledgements.
Although her children undoubtedly have adequate child care, she probably worries when the nanny can’t take the kids to an after-school event. But working women in my neighborhood don’t have nannies. Parents are sometimes living apart, if one can’t find a job locally. And when the teenager who watches the kids after school has another obligation, how do you cope?
I’m not sure Sheryl is talking to the majority of women, yet she implores women to drive themselves at work, not wait for management to discover their talent! I’ve often said to myself, as a working woman and mom, “Which will it be? Will I feel guilty at work or at home today?”
The stay-at-home mom may keep busy with child care and with civic and religious activities. She may enjoy her freedom until her husband of 15 years says, “Whoops, I’m out of here!” Her degree helps, but her skills are rusty, coupled with a possible devastated ego and unrealistic ideas of her value to the workforce. Even with excellent connections and neighbors for encouragement, “leaning in” is a fairy tale for many women.
Suffice it to say, as Sheryl mentions in her book, “We make hard choices, along with consequences."
Next week I’ll suggest compromises for consideration. And we’ll look at some of the quotes I’ve collected, while writing this two-part discussion. Your comments on this topic will be greatly appreciated.