I spent the weekend wallowing in the media blitz that broke on Friday as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, hit the headlines, along with her goal of raising the consciousness of working women everywhere.
My first observation: Woo hoo!
Controversy is good for us women. All of us, whether we work full-time, stay-at-home, do the crazy hybrid-juggle dance, or have sworn off kids. Conflict means debate, discussion, flame-throwing, brain-storming, truth-telling, venting, ranting and lots of media attention to the issues the bedevil women’s lives.
So far, corporate beasts including The New York Times, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Johnson & Johnson, Google and American Express have all lent their logos to Sandburg’s consciousness-raising circles. Maybe family-friendlier policies will follow their public commitment to the cause.
This is ALL GOOD.
Second, I will throttle the next person who suggests anyone should IGNORE Sheryl Sandberg’s book because she is, insert dramatic pause here: “too successful.”
Consider this nugget from the New York Times: “Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000 square-foot-house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder”
The awkwardness? Come on. To whom should we listen instead?
Is advice from the waitress at Daily Grill or a toll booth operator somehow more valuable that the COO of Facebook?
Since when are men advised to listen to their plumber instead of Jack Welch when it comes to their careers?
Sandberg is exactly the type of role model we should taking marching orders from. She got the brass ring – actually, several of them. Dismissing her wisdom about work, marriage, and motherhood is like telling rookie army recruits not to listen to four-star generals. This woman, and others like her at the pinnacle of corporate America, are my idols. Dang straight I want to hear their advice.
Unfortunately, though, there are many cruel questions Ms. Sandberg doesn’t tackle – ones that a waitress, plumber, or toll booth operator may have better answers to.
Sandberg’s suggestions – to plan ahead pragmatically, to set our sights high, to work diligently toward goals, to insist our partners do half the housework and kid-wrangling, to network with other women – are all superfantastic. Every ambitious woman I know has acted accordingly.
But what do you do when life just doesn’t work out the way Sheryl Sandberg’s has?
When the lovely, tender-hearted man you married and had three beautiful kids with – the same man who had no qualms about stopping to buy you pantyhose when you were dating and stuck late at work the night before a big presentation – flat-out refuses to split the housework, change diapers, and do daycare pick up?
Divorce him? Yeah, that’ll help.
Or when you get hustled out of your dream job because you, a few too many times for your helicopter boss, chose to take your kid to the pediatrician yourself instead of logging in two extra face-time hours at the office? Quit and then write an angry blog about how unfair your company treated you?
That’s not going to pay for college.
Or when your child is diagnosed with autism. Despite your thrilling career, you ponder the tough call to stay home to help him navigate life, adding a career curve ball to the one motherhood has already thrown. A little coffee talk with other moms isn’t going to untangle your depression and lost hopes.
Sandberg is brilliant and skilled, smart and savvy and industrious.
She is also lucky.
Do we want to live in a country where random good fortune plays such an outsized role in women’s success at work and at home?
As Sandberg rose in her career, many of her female colleagues, women as smart, impeccably educated, well-married and hard-working as Sandburg, fell by the wayside through no fault of their own.
Some stalled at midlevel jobs in male dominated fields like investment banking, construction, and politics. Others felt forced out or held back by unsympathetic corporate cultures, discovering that workplace bias policies and laws are often ignored. For others, lack of support from the men in their lives – fathers, husbands and bosses- forced them to choose between career and family. Some simply wanted to be their children’s main caregivers. These women “chose” to put their kids first, even when it meant sacrificing their career goals and economic security.
No one can afford to let corporations, the government, our husbands, bosses, brothers, fathers and sons off the hook here.
Not when women leave the workforce at twice the rate of men.
Not while only 11% of the private sector have access to paid family leave.
Not when women’s pay hovers at 77% of male colleagues.
Not when only 21 of the current Fortune 500 CEOs are female.
The real revolution our country needs? Transformation of corporate policies and government incentives when it comes to cultivating working women at all levels of the food chain. Women have done plenty of internal consciousness-raising in the 50 years since Betty Friedan first published her landmark book, The Feminine Mystique.
The next step is external recognition from laws, employers, and partners that recognize the challenges to – and value of – being a good parent and a success at work simultaneously. Now is the time for our leaders, male and female, to raise their collective consciousness and recognize that everyone benefits from a country that “leans in” to parenthood and work at the same time.