Sunday, March 16, 2014

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

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

Every woman needs to read this book. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, admits that she didn't
always call herself a feminist. Like many other women of her generation (a bit younger than me), she thought that feminism was not necessary any more because we'd achieved equality. Then she learned how naive she was.

Sandberg has been broadly criticized for being blind to her own privilege, but I didn't find this to be true. She repeatedly says that not everyone has had the advantages she has (including a nanny to care for her children, and a supportive husband). She does have privilege and a very different perspective than blue-collar single moms, but she owns up to that. She has a different perspective than lower-income, less-educated women, but she's writing from her own experience, and many of her lessons apply to us all. It's especially hard for these women to "lean in," but the wisdom and inspiration in the book can help them too.

Sandberg tackles the systemic issues of sexism and backs them up with personal stories and research. The personal stories were fascinating...such as going to financial offices where they'd never had a woman ask to use a bathroom, or discovering--on a corporate jet--that her children had lice, or revealing the fact that she was brought to tears and comforted once by Mark Zuckerberg, who gave her a hug (and she was then criticized for that!). 

Here's just a bit of the compelling research I noted in the book, which is packed full of footnotes:
  • In the last decade, child care costs have risen twice as fast as the median income of families with children.
  • When the Harvard Business School surveyed alumni, they found that 91% of the men's graduates were employed, while only 81% of the women graduates from the early 2000s were employed, and only 49% of those who graduated in the early 1990s were working full-time. Highly educated women drop out of the workforce in droves, contributing to the leadership gender gap.
  • 40% of employed  moms lack sick days and vacation, and 50% of them are unable to take time to care for a sick child.
  • Only 1/2 of employed moms receive maternity leave pay.
This morning I heard on NPR that women make closer salaries to men's when they first start working after college graduation, but the income gap spreads as the years go on. This study explains.

Sandberg's also been accused of blaming women, but I didn't find that either. She issues a challenge for all of us to lean in, to rise to the challenge, to be confident in ourselves and the choices we make, and strive for greater equality in the workplace and in our broader culture at large. 

She also calls on men to lean in and calls out the stereotypes they face if they choose to stay home with the kids. She says that men need to speak up, set new pathways, and demand paternity leave. She quotes Gloria Steinem, "Now we know that women can do what men can do, but we don't know that men can do what women can do."  The revolution will happen one family at a time...younger generations appear to be more eager to be real partners in parenting.

One of the new Getty images from the "Lean In Collection"
She clarifies that "doing it all" is a myth. Women have to make choices, but Sandberg hopes that women will stay in the workforce. In fact, women who work outside the home spend more time with their kids today than our moms did in the 1960s and 1970s. An employed mom spends about the same time on primary child care as a non-employed mom in 1975.

Since I finished the book, Sandberg has been in the news again with her great work with Getty Images to create positive images of women in stock photos (the "Lean In Collection"), and for her "Ban Bossy" campaign in partnership with the Girl Scouts.

”When a girl tries to lead, she is often labelled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend. As someone who was called this for much of my childhood, I know that it is not a compliment. The stories of my childhood bossiness are told (and retold) with great amusement.“

So yes, Sandberg might be a privileged, educated, white woman, but she is doing good work...necessary and overdue work, prompting women and men to look at our status quo and realize that many things are not right. She is using her position to advance the cause of women in the workplace and society, and this is to be applauded.

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