I have to admit that I’ve been mystified by all the criticism of Sheryl Sandberg new “Lean In” movement. Here we have a female who’s making every attempt to help women rise up and succeed and there is a large group of women (and men) criticizing her for what she’s trying to do. And why is that? She wants every little girl who people perceive as bossy to know they have leadership skills and potential. I certainly want my daughter to grow up feeling that way.
I’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching the debate unfold online about her because she is not “like all the rest”, all uncannily happening at the same time as the debate around Marissa Mayer’s manifesto that none of her employees can no longer work at home. Some protected Sandberg: When’s the last time someone picked up a Jack Welch (or Warren Buffett, or even Donald Trump) bestseller and complained that it was unsympathetic to working class men who had to work multiple jobs to support their families? (The Verge). Some did not: Maureen Dowd, writing in the Times, called her a Powerpoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle books. Last week’s headline on the cover of TIME Magazine read: Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful (we all know what that line is spoofing and it really wasn’t funny and I’m quite sure Sandberg didn’t appreciate it either.
But for me, seeing her on 60 Minutes (the clip above) was an eye-opener, and was like a READ THIS BOOK moment.
The first thing she says in the piece is that men run the world and that the women’s revolution is stalled. We can’t disagree with that. We must acknowledge it to change it. When the reporter asks if she is trying to reignite the revolution and keeps women’s progress from being stagnant and Sandberg replies: “I think so.”
It’s not that I think Sandberg felt she had to write this book because she is the only woman succeeding right now (though I wish the reporter hadn’t told her point blank that she is one of the “most powerful women in the world”), I think she is compelled because the reality she is describing is true. The women’s movement has made great strides over the last 40 years but we have not reached the finish line. Not yet.
Isn’t it time that someone jump-started the feminism movement? It has been stalled. Even Gloria Steinem agrees.
In the interview, Sandberg goes on to say that women hold themselves back. They play it too safe at work, worry too much about being liked and turn down opportunities in s of having children one day. In the interview she says “They lean back. I want to have a child one day or I’m still learning on my current job.” Sounds like she doesn’t think women are ambitious but she does, however she says that men try harder. I can’t fault her a statement she has found proven statistics for. But there is more we do for ourselves to sit in board rooms and take risks.
And then she sits forward and tells the audience she knows is watching very earnestly, “Don’t lean back, lean in!” She’s not blaming women, she understands that there are issues out of our control. She thinks women should aim high, take challenges and seek risks.
Who can disagree with her? As a female, I agree that there are issues of out of my control that set me back. I’ve been dealing with them since I started working in the 1990s. I’ve made plenty of decisions because I was scared or had too many options, worked with competitive women who held me back and made decisions based around having a family and trying to do the best for everyone. Things out of my control? Yes, you could say that.
Sandberg knew there would be a backlash, but sometimes I wish women could just stop picking on each other and see the value of what others are trying to do for them. She has solutions. and she outlines them in her book which I plan to read.
I left my fulltime job when I had my first child out of frustration that I would never see her. I was told I could no longer have flexible hours and my child was still less than a year old and I was breastfeeding. Perhaps I should have stuck it out and kept a job that I loved and pushed for more family-friendly practices, but it felt kind of hopeless.
Had I worked for Marissa Mayer, I know that she wouldn’t have helped me. She went back to work when her child was two weeks old. She has recently removed all off site work arrangements, making those who want to play the life/balance card trickier than ever. And unfortunately, more companies are falling in her footsteps.
But had I worked for Sandberg, I have a feeling it would have worked itself out and I would have been inspired to carry on and have the best of both worlds. That’s what I hope that Sandberg will do for all young, and old (like me), women in the workforce. I’ve been lucky ever since I made that decision to work for some very family-friendly companies, and I hope that all the other companies all take a lesson from her.