Leaning in: My 2 cents and 2 quibbles

photo-50Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, officially comes out today (Monday) but Amazon shipped over the weekend. So I read over the weekend. Sometimes while reading, I felt like I’d practically underlined the whole book, so much was I agreeing with what Sandberg has to say.

The title comes from her advice to young women. Noting that “the blunt truth is that men still run the world,” she looks at reasons that might be. Larger social forces are, of course, to blame. But so are internal obstacles. “Rather than engage in philosophical arguments over which comes first, let’s agree to wage battles on both fronts,” she says. And the good news about the internal front is that it can be addressed immediately!

She recounts the by now famous story of a young woman at Facebook who peppered her with questions about how she combined work and family. She asked if the woman was thinking of having a kid, and the young woman replied that she didn’t even have a boyfriend. “If my generation was too naive, the generations that have followed may be too practical,” writes Sandberg. “When it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them.” Women make choices to leave in bits and pieces. We slow down, thinking this will be required. But “the months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in,” says Sandberg. Leaning in gets you a better paying job, more authority, more autonomy, more flexibility. “The more satisfied a person is with her position, the less likely she is to leave. So the irony — and to me, the tragedy — is that women wind up leaving the workforce precisely because of things they did to stay in the workforce. With the best of intentions, they end up in a job that is less fulfilling and less engaging.”

“Choosing to leave a child in someone else’s care and return to work is a difficult decision…Only a compelling, challenging, and rewarding job will begin to make that choice a fair contest.”

See why I was underlining so often? Lean In deals with many more topics. It’s partly Sandberg’s memoir, partly a career guide, and to a degree a feminist call to arms — at least for feminists who aren’t so busy privilege-checking other women that they can’t celebrate a powerful woman’s accomplishments without saying “oh, it’s easy for her, she can hire help” or other such things no one says when Jack Welch writes a book on success. Sandberg discusses various research that really needs to be written about more, like large scale, longitudinal studies showing that (in the words of the report summary) “children who were cared for exclusively by their mothers did not develop differently than those who were also cared for by others.” She also cites the historical time diary studies finding that employed women now spend as much time with their children as women who were not employed did a generation ago. I also enjoyed the random anecdotes, like one from the head of McKinsey’s DC office pondering why, when people quit because they were burnt out, they often did so with unused vacation days. Many of us need to take more responsibility for ourselves and our careers and our lives.

Overall, I have just two quibbles with Sandberg’s book. First, the idea of leaning in up until the point you have kids makes perfect sense…if you have kids in your late 30s. Sandberg was married once in her early 20s and was divorced by age 25. She married David Goldberg in her mid-30s and had her children after that. The problem with all this is that while there’s no perfect time to have children from a career perspective, there is from a biological perspective, and it’s quite a bit before 38. I got pregnant with my oldest child when I was 27. While I certainly do feel I leaned in before then, my leaning didn’t have the kind of decade-plus momentum it would have had at 37. Certainly, lean in before you have kids, but some of the emphasis has to stay on leaning in with kids too. I really want to see more stories out there of happy women who are having kids while in professional school, during the early years of big corporate careers, etc. As Sandberg writes, “It may not be as dramatic or funny to make a movie about a woman who loves both her job and her family, but that would be a better reflection of reality.”

One reason I suspect that Sandberg doesn’t hit too hard on the leaning in post kids concept is that she is trying to be inclusive and supportive of women who take time out of the labor force to raise kids. Such “choice feminism” is fine; I tend to agree that people should do what they want with their own lives (“most women are not focused on changing social norms for the next generation but simply trying to get through each day,” writes Sandberg). But while I like the choice rubric and agree with it, it leads to some logical inconsistencies. After all, Sandberg cites research that men with at-home wives tend to view the presence of women in the workplace less favorably. They deny promotions to qualified women more often. Perhaps the men in these relationships are the only ones making choices, and there is no universe in which their family situations would have been different. But if their wives also have a say in the matter, and their choice to stay home influences these men’s beliefs on women in the workplace, then such a choice hurts other women. That makes Sandberg’s exhortations for everyone to “work harder to rise above this” a bit more complicated.

But overall, it’s a good book, and a quick read, and I recommend checking it out — if for no other reason than that many, many people will be talking about it this week, and it’s good to know what a book actually says before drawing conclusions.

88 thoughts on “Leaning in: My 2 cents and 2 quibbles

  1. Fantastic review! Also, can I say it is refreshing to read a review from someone who has actually read the book?
    Btw, where I live age 27 is late to start a family! I agree with you though that there was plenty of time for leaning in when my son was small, though to be honest, I did drop from 6 days a week to more like 5. But, a lot of that was me being more efficient at things like teaching (from previous leaning in) so I didn’t need to work Sunday doing class prep anymore.
    The other link I clicked on about the book this morning was saying that her children will turn out to be like Citizen Kane. What offensive garbage. The patriarchy is out in full swing this morning. (Her children will turn out just fine.) I assume some people only feel like they can justify their own choices by attacking others. They must be deeply unhappy with their own lives, which is sad, but they still should lay off other people’s kids.

    1. @NicoleandMaggie- yeah, I didn’t think it was all that young either, but I’m always surprised, at my son’s elementary school, that many parents seem older than I am. I also have no doubt Sandberg’s kids will turn out fine. They certainly have smart parents, plenty of ambition, and if there’s something that helps kids in life I’m sure they’ll make sure they have it.

      1. Oh yeah, where we live, and in our social circle/demographic/whatever, 27 was pretty young to start having kids. Looking around T’s daycare and preschool, we are definitely right around average at 37 & 42. Then again, *many* people I know have also had issues with infertility, so there’s that.

        But I didn’t get married until I was 30, either.

        Nice book review. I guess I’ll put myself on the loooong waiting list at the library.

        My guess is that she did not write about leaning in after kids, either because it was already too long of a book (the strategies are pretty different, right?) or because of the privilege issue – my guess is that she was already quite successful when she had kids (at Google, right?) and probably did have access to a lot of resources that would make her advice less universally applicable.

        1. My poor little sister is an old maid at 29. She may have to wait for the divorces to start happening if she doesn’t move out of the South. Many of my friends in northern and coastal cities are just getting married in their mid and late 30s.
          Of course, in my husband’s tiny midwestern town, his friends from before he went off to boarding school all got married and divorced at least once (in one case twice) before he graduated from college. There, waiting until the old age of 20 to have kids is considered a good thing.

          1. @N&M – yes, not too early, not too late. 25 is the perfect age to get married, and 27 is the perfect time to start your family. I say that because these are objective numbers and not just because they’re mine 🙂

          2. Interesting. I was raised and later mentored: “Don’t have kids until your 30s.” But if I had had an unplanned pregnancy prior to turning 30, I bet I still could have worked it out, because some of my peers did just that. I probably would not have done quite the same amount and type of international travel in my 20s if I’d become a mother then, but career-wise I still would have been fine. The international travel would probably have involved a lot more time on playgrounds, but could still have happened because I would have prioritized it.

          3. Oh, I was mentored to have one kid after tenure. But I wanted two, and wanted them when I wanted them.

            Prior to meeting DH, I figured if I had kids I’d have them in my 30s like my mom did. But there were infertility concerns with me (which turned out to be justified), and I got married young to a man I’d been with since we were teenagers, so it made sense for us to start earlier.

            My mom thought I got married too young and thought I was starting a family too young, but she’s happy with the way it worked out.

          4. Nicoleandmaggie, I didn’t know we have the same story (at least, married at 22 dating for 6 years)! I think it was really nice that we had been together so long, so that we could have the kids in grad school. Then since I did a 3 year postdoc, they were both out of diapers (and less exhausting) when I started my faculty job. I think I probably could have done a little more or gone through a little faster in grad school and postdoc without the kids, but apparently it was enough to get the faculty job I wanted. Actually, I think I lost more time due to another medical issue during my postdoc than I took off after having one child. To the people who think that they shouldn’t hire a woman because she might have kids, that just goes to show, many things can derail your work whether you are female or not. I’m fine now, though.

  2. Thanks for the informative review. I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to read it this week, so it is good to read a full review like this.
    I had my kids relatively late (first when I was almost 35), but that was just because I didn’t met their father until I was almost 30. I tell women who ask me that they should have kids whenever they are sure they want them, because there is no guarantee on fertility. I had no problems, but that was just luck.

  3. I totally agree it would be nice to hear more stories of women “leaning in” while having children.
    I had my first while still in university, then got hired at a “big four” accounting firm. While on maternity leave with my second (we get one year where I live), I completed the graduate studies needed for my CPA certification. Now I am finishing up my required 24 month work experience to have my professional designation and am planning on a third child.
    While my firm is very big on flexibility, most people wait until they are higher up in the organization to start a family. Given that I had started my before I even begun, I certainly feel a distinct lack of role models for my situation: women who choose to start a family and a career simultaneously.

    1. @Mary- maybe I need to start reporting on such women. But I’m sure the role models are out there somewhere. Maybe not at your firm, but perhaps in others.

  4. It’s interesting that the advice Sandberg gives is the same that my father gave me. He told me to apply for postdocs and jobs when I was thinking about getting pregnant with my second. I believed all the stories about academia not accepting those choices. He was right, at least in my case. I got pregnant, got job interviews, got a postdoc, had a baby, and got a tenure track job. No one looked down on my choices. If I’d continued to overthink it I wouldn’t have applied and wouldn’t be in a place where I’m pretty satisfied in both spheres of my life.

    1. @Que Sera- I’m so glad that worked out for you. And it’s true — we talk ourselves out of all sorts of things, assuming opinions that may not be there. Why not go for it?

      1. When I started graduate school in economics, women did not have babies before tenure and then stay to get tenure. That has changed dramatically in the last 10 years (in that, now it seems to be ok to have one pre-tenure baby). I’m happy to have unapologetically played my part in that change of social norms.

        1. It’s exciting to hear that there are more female professors with kids.

          I’m curious about some aspects of career and wonder if Laura, or anyone else, knows if it has been studied.

          1) How does religiosity play into whether women have successful careers? We are conservative Christian and it seems that few conservative Christian or LDS women have successful careers. Orthodox Jewish women have successful careers but often still carry the whole load at home.

          2) How does family of origin affect it? From my observations, many/most women who manage to keep leaning in have at least some family help. This is particularly common in Indian families.

          3) How does age of the father affect the decision? As I recall, Laura’s husband is a few years older. How would her flexibility be affected if he were an equal number of years younger, or the same age? Would she be more flexible because his career would be less fixed? Or would she be less flexible because he would still be paying his dues?

    2. I did postdoc interviews when I was pregnant too; I was worried about it at first but it didn’t seem to matter. Well, it may have mattered on one interview, but I didn’t want to go there anyway. The strange thing was that people kept asking me if I wanted water–not clear if the thought is that pregnant people constantly need water, or just that I might be tired and need a break?

  5. Laura, I didn’t know you had your first kid at 27! When I was in middle school sketching out “master plan for my life” (I was a fun 12-year-old), I would have gone to law school right after college, graduated at 25, had my first baby at 27, had my second baby at 30, and made partner by 35. Now I’m a couple of years away from the big 3-0 and none of it is going to plan. In some ways, it’s better, but having a child during “leaning in” years is something I’ve been wondering about, especially as I will likely be pursuing a consulting job post-MBA. And I’m trying to separate out the feeling of “I don’t want a kid right now” vs. “I don’t want kids, period.”

    1. @Well Heeled Blog – I was 28 when he was born… I love that you had a master plan for life at 12. I think that consulting certainly can work. Why not? You actually have more control over your time than you think. The issue is that many of the folks who go into consulting at the McKinseys, Bains and BCGs of the world are somewhat insecure overachievers, and worry about taking that flexibility. That’s why the story on unused vacation days is so poignant.

      1. The “insecure overachiever” remark is unfair. In those companies, your work is measured by your % Utilization, which is essentially your billed hours. When I was at Deloitte, they calculated that % based on 2080 hours, which is 40 x 52. So even though we technically got 5 weeks paid time off, if you actually took it, your utilization went down, and that’s assuming you were staffed on a project the entire rest of the year (which in the late 90s/early 2000s was not a good assumption to make).

        So, when you are staffed, you work crazy hours (45+) to make up for your “vacation” as well as any unstaffed/unbillable time. In addition, stuff like training, travel time, internal activities, etc DID NOT count towards utilization, so you always felt “behind”. The culture definitely encourages people to work, work, work, and BILL.

    2. I had my first child while I was working at a large contracting/consulting company. I was more on the technical side than the management consulting side, so my experience may not transfer. However, that job had the best flexibility I’ve ever had, and was an awesome place to be a new mother. I only left because they stopped doing the sorts of projects that most interested me.

    3. I worked for a Big 5 (or 6 or 4 or whatever) consulting firm right out of grad school for a few years and loved that job. But the issue for me was all the travel. I did not have a single project in the city I lived in. Getting on a plane twice a week, every week, after 9/11 became a HUGE hassle, and eventually I quit so I could have a more “normal” life. But I didn’t have kids, only a house, boyfriend, and a dog. I know for a fact I couldn’t make that work with kids, but know several people who did (men and women).

      1. @ARC- I interviewed a woman the other day with a fair amount of travel and small kids. When she’s gone she works around the clock. When she’s home, she works at home much of the time and is there and off for a bit when the kids get home from school. Again, it’s thinking in terms of 168 hours, or even multiple weeks, instead of 24 hours.

        1. Yes, a friend who’s been doing the traveling gig for 12+ years calls her nanny her “wife”. The nanny stays in their house during the week while my friend is out of town.

          K also negotiates a 3 day on-site week when she’s on an out of town project, rather than the usual 4.

  6. A man’s view… Women have always been leaders, most fail to believe it themselves (Sandberg says as much in her 60 minutes interview)

    My mother was widowed at 39 with 3 daughters and 1 son. My father was 34 when he married, died at 52 and left my mother “comfortable” financially.
    I married at 35, first child at 36, second at 38. Would have had more children but “cancer” took that off the table.
    Now 47, I can’t imagine a greater happiness than my wife, daughter and son. I’m proud my father set the example for me to “Lean In” before I accepted the responsibility of a family (especially given these economic times).

    However, the real leader in my family? My mother!!! She taught us all “family first” and never give up. I love you Mom 🙂

  7. The Lean In Groups are a great idea and the idea that there is a best way to be a successful woman, how to say things, how to dress, act to get what you want… in our current context … is correct..
    she says:
    1.women are doing too much housework and childcare.. Ok but who is goign to do the childcare ? who does her childcare.. she refuses to speak of her nanny or nannies? why?
    2. is the advice, be rich, have a perfect husband and have flexible work? is this advice practical or an fu from her to women? what is her real advice ?
    3. also it is true that things are taken differently/better from a man than a woman and success and likeabilty are much more directly correlated for men than women.. this is a huge problem in “selling” success to women… there is statistical research to back this up…
    to attend a Lean In Group as a working mom of kids without a nanny or a stay at home husband the group must provide CHILDCARE … so I’d only join a group if it offered childcare… and I’d participate in the childcare so as not to be hypocritical but it will be interesting to see how many of those groups offer childcare or are held at a place where kids can run around while mom has big ideas and self actualizes … there is only so much self actualizing a woman with kids can do with kids on her without childcare … telling them to lean in and join a group but find your own childcare isn’t the most pro woman thing i’ve ever heard.. and childcare costs $ and is either low quality or expensive america so we need to work on it, have more co ops encouarge women to share childcare etc.
    Also women do hate on each other and we have to work on this… part of as gloria steinem says ”
    Feminism that says women can have it all without children won’t sell b/c great love and children are part of most people’s happiness overall… yes lean in until you have kids… but then what? learn how to say it and how to geet folks to like you as a woman… the time profile of her is pretty clear on the fact that she has cultivated this .. have kids — how do you self-actualize in our current world… also sandberg refuses to discuss her how — herchildcare arrangement or let her husband discuss it int he profile which I think is a bit hypocritical… if she wrote a straight bio as sonia sotomayor did that I think would be great.. or a self help ok or advice book.. but mixing the genres as in bio as self help might end up being a big problematic…

  8. Good review! Now I’m curious about the book. I think her overall message will be important for women. I don’t think it’s her intent to solve larger societal issues like childcare support etc.. but I do think that the lack of government policies that support affordable childcare and longer maternity leave is a huge detriment to the leaning in concept. While I know that many women don’t want a longer leave, I do think a majority of women quit the workforce early on because it’s hard to juggle a newborn, breastfeeding and lack of sleep with work. I almost threw in the towel and only saw the light, that it was possible to get sleep, when my kids were 9 months to 1year. It’s also hard emotionally to leave a young baby at childcare or with a nanny.

    1. Of course it’s hard — that’s why her point is that if you have the resources to quit you will, unless your job is really compelling. Of course there are lots of policy things that could change, but this doesn’t have to be either/or. Other people can write about childcare and maternity leaves etc. She’s writing about the issue she can speak to.

      1. Of course my personal dilemma is that my job is interesting enough but doesn’t quite give me the financial resources since I’m not high-level. I expect that is common also. it’s not either a high-powered compelling job or a boring job that’s easy to quit.

  9. I think a lot of this sounds like good advice, but I agree strongly with your point about leaning in post-kids. I didn’t have my first child until I was 33, but that was because I didn’t get married until I was 31. I was concerned about waiting even longer to have kids than 33 because of things in my family history. It turns out that I probably didn’t have to worry as much as I did–since I had another uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy at 37 and now have two healthy children–but you really never know, and many women who wait until they are over 35 have a sad surprise, or at least have to go through a lot with fertility treatments or adoption procedures that aren’t what they bargained for. I had a mentor in graduate school whose marriage broke down under the strain of the fertility issues they faced, by waiting until she was in her early 40’s to start trying, after she got tenure. Her career went wonderfully, and continues to go wonderfully. She leaned in the whole time, career-wise, but she never had children and never remarried, and speaks openly in interviews about the costs she bore. She advises all the young women she meets who want children to have them when they are ready and have the right partner and not to wait. If that time is your early or mid-20’s, or even early 30’s for some careers, you are going to have to be leaning in while you have kids.

    1. Definitely. There’s a lot of pressure after you have kids to “lean out”. We touched on that briefly in our Unnatural Mother post last week ( http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/unnatural-mother/ ).
      I was also reminded of it with a CNN article this week inspired by the Sandberg stuff that talked about how it’s ok to not go to every little children’s thing and how it’s ok to let dad step up. And even, how it’s ok to not physically be there for every birthday. (Which is good news to me, as DC2 was born smack dab in the middle of an important annual conference, so ze is either going to have to come with me or I’ll have to not be there for her birthday some years.)
      The comments section was brutal.
      But it’s true. Kids don’t need to have a helicopter mom to become resourceful adults. The lesson that sometimes adults don’t have to sacrifice for their kids is a good one for kids to get– they’re going to spend a lot more time as adults than they will as kids. (And is it really such a bad thing if mommy missing the occasional game or party means that baby can go to the college of her choice debt-free?)
      Obviously there are limits– parents can’t be completely absentee (and that goes for dad too), but there’s a pretty wide range of when and how to be there that results in well-adjusted kids.

    2. @Karen A – perhaps I need to do a whole new post on the “ovarian cliff” as someone referred to it in another comment on a different post. I really do think that the time to start having kids is much, much earlier than suggested by many of the narratives out there, but that doesn’t mean you should focus on marriage and kids before career — as if people have such limited focus they can’t do both. That especially irks me when people suggest focusing on finding a husband before focusing on the career — really? Dating takes 100% of your time and energy? I hope not!

      1. @Laura, I basically agree with you, but finding a husband turned out to be a lot harder than I expected. I was engaged twice in my 20’s and broke both engagements. Then I lived with a serious boyfriend and broke up with him too rather than take the next step. I have no regrets about those breakups, and am happily married now. I am very glad I am not married to any of my exes, but having that many serious relationships not work out and feeling like I had to end them is not something I expected would happen, nor something I would say was a high point of my life. Stuff happens that actually doesn’t have anything to do with either kids or career.

        1. Karen, I know what you mean. That’s what makes me cross about this “find a husband before the ovarian cliff” advice. It makes it sound like shopping for an item before the sale ends. But as you point out, finding a good husband isn’t that simple–a lot isn’t within our control. (I had a broken engagement too. Talk about disruption in life plans! When that happened, I was 25, my peers were starting to get married, and I was just picking up the pieces and starting my life over.)

          Yes, we should do what we can to find a husband–date, take care of ourselves, be a good companion, etc. But I think it’s better to look for a loving, supportive husband and adopt than to marry someone who, say, is abusive than to marry just to have kids. I’m glad you are happily married.

      2. I would love an “ovarian cliff” post from you. I know I’m in the minority here: it also irks me when people assume a woman has to focus on finding someone to marry before getting pregnant. Nope, all she needs is some sperm – and one need not be married to get that.

      3. Laura: That’s why I like reading your blog, even though I’m not yet married with kids. I’m not just looking into my future. I’m thinking, “If she can have a career and kids, then I can have a career and date.” 🙂 So I won’t be one of those stereotypical “career girls” who don’t have time to meet guys. Career and personal life are important!

  10. I chose to become a single mother by choice at 28. My first child was born during my third year on the tenure track (I was 31). The second was conceived via donor egg the year I went up for tenure, after three years of infertility treatment. Hasn’t been easy, but I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d waited to try for #1.

  11. Laura,
    Reading your review was refreshing a bit on the wild side in that you actually read the book! I’ve been tracking work-life issues and more specifically work stress for about 15 years. Many books cross my desk but this one deserved careful attention. I was amazed by the conversation that ensued upon the book’s release and couldn’t help but wonder how many folks were commenting without having read the book.

    The debate in this country has hit a new high not only on the work-life merge, but women’s career trajectory and compensation. I do feel women have to take the wheel in furthering their career objectives, but the reality is that some women have not had the good fortune of an incredible education, financial privilege and a supportive husband and community.

    I feel a strong responsibility to keep the dialogue going – not because I’m a women – but because conceptually – work life balance, fair compensation, internal career advancement and treating talent with respect should be across the board and not gender specific. @JudyMartin8

  12. The biggest problem with work-life balance for women AND men is that the social norms depend on long-dead notions of what women and men do all day long. Our paradigms of successful [insert role] all depend on 100% commitment to whatever it is — forgetting that most of us are more than one thing, and we don’t have 200% or 300% — we have 100%.

    If we have a job outside our homes, we are expected to be 100% committed to that job. If we have children, we are expected to be 100% committed to them. If we do volunteer work, the expectation is that we are 100% committed to our volunteer life.

    And let’s not forget how vital our friendships are, and how we need to be 100% committed to our friends.

    Oh, and I forgot, we also have to be 100% committed to our health and fitness!

    That doesn’t add up.

    Until we figure out how to successfully undermine the social norms (and the very real but invisible rules that underlie them, even now), we’re all going to be stuck on the same treadmill for a long, long time.

    That’s not to say that some people haven’t successfully negotiated other solutions, or that personal happiness and fulfillment is unobtainable — that’s not so. But it is much harder, and it is especially hard for the increasing number of those at the bottom end of the economic spectrum. All those wonderful flex-time schedules available to professionals depend for their success on an army of staff people who are at the office at least 40 hours a week, and often longer. Sadly, I don’t see this improving any time soon, given how badly most workers are being squeezed these days.

    1. I love this! One of my favorite observations about health and well being is the Gompertz Law of Human Mortality, first observed in 1825.

      Your probability of death doubles every 8 years.

      From what I’ve read, only 4 extreme behaviors (suicide, drug/alcohol addiction, morbid obesity, and smoking) have a measurable effect on this.

      So, within reason, don’t stress about eating healthy or exercising. Do what feels good. Because it probably doesn’t matter anyway, in terms of life expectancy.

  13. I’m looking forward to reading the book. Apparently, her message is extremely threatening to lots of folks out there, so I’m glad to read your supportive review as someone who -gasp- has actually read the book!

    I have a small quibble about your quibble – “Perhaps the men in these relationships are the only ones making choices, and there is no universe in which their family situations would have been different. But if their wives also have a say in the matter, and their choice to stay home influences these men’s beliefs on women in the workplace, then such a choice hurts other women.”

    I’ve heard similar arguments made about women who work anything less than full time – that, like SAHM’s, part-time working women are also allegedly making their (mostly male) managers think all mothers in the workplace must not really be “serious” and “committed” to their work. But to say such choices to leave the workforce either completely or partly are actively hurting other women? That’s a claim without much empirical support. To prove it, we would have to get at the roots of these male managers’ internalized sexism. We know from studies of racism that prejudicial beliefs tend to form long before adulthood. Analogizing to sexism, if these prejudices were around long before the nonworking wife entered the picture, then can we truly claim that male bossses’ prejudices against working women are the fault of the wife’s career choices? Some correlation there, no doubt, but I’m just not convinced as to the causal evidence.

    1. Regardless of boss prejudices, someone, male or female, has to care for young children if we as a society are to have children.

      The necessity of an underclass to provide childcare is the dark side of dual career families. (Stay-at-home dads avoid this problem just as well as stay-at-home moms.)

      1. most nannies are abused; there is pretty good statistical research on this and this idea that one’s self actualization comes at the price of another is pretty much part of marriage… that is you are going to have to constantly negotiate and many folks aren’t up for it.. and prefer to abuse the nanny or opt out… the entire system is onsome level built on a slave class… in many ways…

        1. Hilarious comments today. Let’s see here… all nannies are “abused slaves,” and there’s loads “good research” to back that up, huh? (That research was probably conducted by some of @nicoleandmaggie’s lousy male coworkers, no doubt!). You sound like folks I know who have never been cared for by nannies, nor have the means to hire a nanny – but have convinced themselves to hate what they don’t know. Nevertheless, yours is a pretty common view amongst members of the American lower and middle classes. Nannies must seem like such an unattainable luxury – I guess if I were in their shoes, I’d probably be jealous too. By the way, if you think someone has actually been enslaved, please call 911 immediately.

        2. @Cara- I would bet good money that anyone working for Sheryl Sandberg is both employed legally and is paid a living wage. If for no other reason than that she writes that she wants to get back into government!

          1. true laura! but the statistics on it don’t suppor this as the norm .. teh majority of nanniess and domestic help are abused in a myriad of ways and you and MANY others have written about this..
            I don’t think SS’s nanny is necessarily abused (also there are many ways to abuse not just financial etc) but when asked about the help in a time article she refuses to comment which doesn’t look good to me … if she wants to help women she should own her nanny or nannies and also lift them up etc.

          2. In all likelihood, the Sandberg household’s employees would probably prefer not to become scrutinized public figures themselves at this time, and she is respecting their requests for some privacy – which obviously also helps keeps her children safer.

          3. The threat of child kidnapping by third parties is something high profile people worry about a great deal. The fewer details the public know, the better.

      2. @TG – there is no necessity of an underclass. I don’t deny that some situations wind up that way (which I’ve written about here). But to show that it isn’t a necessity, consider this: Most people don’t view their local public school teachers as an “underclass” caring for their children while they work, even though lots of working parents use school as their sole childcare. Of course, the teachers are teaching too. But so do daycare workers and nannies. Sometimes very very well! My oldest son was in daycare until he was 4. At that time, he could recognize all his letters and numbers and write them too. We think preschool is good, and basically center-based daycare is preschool for longer hours. Doesn’t sound much like a dark side to me.

        1. As much as I agree that daycare can be awesome, and we used the most expensive center-based care in town, I was appalled to find out the teachers get paid just barely over minimum wage. Consequently, the “teachers” were often recent high school graduates and once they had been around for a while and got a good reputation, they’d leave. If we’re concerned about fair pay, then a nanny that you pay a living wage, or (if you trust it) a licensed home-based daycare with less overhead might be the way to go.

        2. I totally agree that there is no *necessity* of an underclass. But public school teachers in the United States don’t strike me as a great example to make that point. In many areas of the U.S., public school teachers are underpaid and underappreciated, as are day care workers and other child care providers. I have a friend who is making a career transition into public school teaching from being a lawyer, and it is a big change. She herself won’t change social or financial class because she and her husband have resources, but her new colleagues are a totally different mix than the people she met while practicing law, and overall much less financially well off.

    2. Two comments:
      1. Last I checked (which was before the recession), men and women left jobs in about even numbers. However, managers remember women leaving for pregnancy whereas they don’t remember men leaving to work for a competitor. That right there is bias. One could even argue it is better for a company to have an employee drop out of the labor force than to have him or her work for a competitor, thus they should hire more women. Managerial views here are what’s the problem, not women’s actions.
      2. Male politicians are affected by whether or not they have daughters. Having a daughter (conditional on having children) makes them more likely to vote positively on legislation that will affect women. It is conceivable that they’re also affected by their wives, but there’s a lot more likely to be selection when it comes to wives. I do have to say that my male professors with (highly educated) SAHM wives spent a lot more time trying to justify their family choices than those with working wives. (Writing lousy papers “proving” that daycare is bad, “proving” that women should stay at home because of comparative advantage, and so on.) Again, how the man reacts to those choices is what is adding to the patriarchy.

      1. I think “the patriarchy” is heavily dependent on your particular race/religion.

        Indian couples, who are mostly upper class immigrants, do very well.

        Conservative Christians/LDS don’t do well.

        You’re probably right that business managers see men and women leave in equal numbers, but in most of the jobs studied, don’t men outnumber women such that men are more likely to remember what women do, period? I got the panicked calls from guys in multi-hundred person physics lectures because I was a good student AND I was female, so they remembered my name. Equally talented men remained nameless.

        1. I’m not understanding the comment, TG? How does the patriarchy depend on race and religion?
          There are a lot of reasons that male physics students call the girl in the class. Most of them are not good and have nothing to do with how memorable (at physics, anyway) she is. (I was an RA at a ‘tech school. I got it straight from the guys’ mouths.) Later on, women professors in STEM fields are more likely to be swamped in office hours then their male counterparts not because they’re memorable, but because they’re less intimidating and their time is perceived as less-valuable (though the research on this is all qualitative– what people say).
          If there are more men compared to women (and I do not remember if the studies specifically were for male-dominated fields, my guess is probably not), then there are more men leaving and managers should have a general idea of why the bulk of men leave because they see it happen so much more frequently. The problem comes when they use the one female example to represent all women and they don’t use the more common male experience to represent all men, even though it is more accurate, and worse for the company.
          I actually saw an example of the leaving thing at my grad school. Everyone remembered the woman IT person getting pregnant and leaving and didn’t want to hire a woman again, but the guy who got busted for misuse of university resources to run an illegal operation, well that wasn’t representative of all men. Let me see if I can find that xkcd comic that illustrates the same idea. http://xkcd.com/385/

          1. Maybe I don’t understand what “patriarchy” is.

            A woman who is conservative Christian or LDS and expects an egalitarian marriage will likely remain single or wind up divorced because her husband will leave her.

            I don’t have a large sample for Indian women, but they seem more able to maintain dual career families without remaining single or winding up divorced.

            In my experience, female managers who had left their kids in daycare from 6 weeks of age were less understanding than male managers of people who didn’t want to do the same thing. Is this patriarchy?

            At my Fortune 100 company (Hewlett Packard), I thought women could advance as easily as men as long as they were childless or had a stay-at-home spouse to cover late nights, business trips, etc. To advance, you had to have the flexibility to travel to customer sites on less than 24 hr notice.
            But I don’t think women and men were treated differently in that way.

          2. patriarchy is patriarchy.. you can have it in any thing that is not a matriarchy … and actually even in matriarchy.. look at the machismo in most latino cultures where the women run a lot of stuff…

            it means men get more than women … SSandberg is pretty honest about highlighting patriarchy and the conversation about it in all cultures or in most cultures is to her credit …

        2. TG: re your observation about Indian couples getting fewer divorces in 2-earner households, much of that is cultural – ie divorce is really, really bad. It’s only considered sort of ok if someone is getting abused “enough”, the husband turns out to be gay, or someone wants kids and the other doesn’t. Even then there’s still a HUGE stigma in the community for divorce (disproportionately on the woman). I think it’s changing, but VERY slowly.

          Anecdotally at work and personally, I observe in a lot of Indian couples, the woman does ALL of the house and kid related stuff (or hires it out). It seems to be the exception that Indian-born husbands take an equal role in these things, whether or not their wives work. But to balance this, there’s often a lot of live-in help from extended family, for months or years at a time.

      2. this is interesting.. like maybe a man’s commitment to womens’ self actualization is best evidenced if and when he has a daughter… or make men have daughters.. etc. his mother is going to be biased toward his self actualization and he’s not likely in the current system to be like yeah honey you go self actualize while I give a little of my hegemony over to you ; that is just now how power works.. men don’t give it up… what is interesting is to see how the narratives men tell their daughters line up with how far evolved we are about women collectively .. fatherhood is probably the only place (maybe brotherhood) a man can really see a woman as her full potential self rather than just vessel for his agenda… any woman who is like my man is all about my needs… is lying or naive … you can 110 love a person and not 110 percent empower or participate in their self actualization

      3. most good men who really love their woman want her self actualization; so they want to believe that the life they have with her is allowing her to self actualize… but that is like saying most white older men in america want women in the workforce.. and women in power.. they do want it but they probably aren’t really aware or willing to do what it takes to make it happen… think of what the man with the sahm really has… while he may not mean to oppress her he does… it doesn’t mean he wishes to or doesn’t love her … marriage itself in this sense is a victim of the fact that we aren’t 100% there.. that doesn’t mean opt out of it… but feel free to pull the curtain back ; )

    3. Even if there were evidence connecting sexism in the workplace to the fact some women leave to care for children, it’s just wrong to exhort women to keep paid jobs.

  14. Thanks for the review; I cannot wait to read the book! However, I am yet to read the book because it is not available on Kindle yet and the media storm surrounding the book hasn’t reached Australia, so it seems my local bookstores don’t have it yet either! Thank goodness for Book Depository – they send books to Australia much more quickly than Amazon do…

    Anyway, I totally agree with you, Laura, re the importance of knowing how to successfully Lean In after kids, as well as before. I am on the threshold of starting a family (in about 2-3 years) and I am definitely just as interested in what to do after I have children, as well as before (I turn 28 in August and like you said, I am not willing to ignore my biological clock for too long).

    From the media coverage, I am aware that a big aspect of the book is about negotiating equality with men at home in regard to child care and house work. Up until this point I had thought we had a pretty egalitarian arrangement at home re the distribution of chores. However, after some conversations with my husband about extra stuff he could do around the house, you know, to even things up, I am not so sure he is willing to split this more evenly (I don’t intend to give up, but will have to work on this a bit more slowly. Hopefully Sandberg has some good tips in her book!) I know that Laura would simply argue to hire someone to do some of the cleaning, but sadly by husband is quite backward when it comes to embracing “core competencies”. However, if I become more successful and better at negotiating as a result of reading this book I will have a much better time “convincing” him that this is the way to go.

    Another aspect of this book that has hit home to me from the media coverage is the degree to which women “Lean Back” before having children. My decision to go into teaching was definitely influenced by the fact that it is a profession that is much friendlier towards women who want time out of the workforce when they have children than other professions. However, I’m wondering now whether part of the reason I did this because it was easier to do this than learn how to negotiate better working conditions for myself in a different profession. While I do not regret going into teaching, I do wonder what might have been if I had read this book 10 years ago. How many women become teachers, nurses, etc, because this is a safe way for women to have a profession, meet everyone’s needs and not have to give up “pleasing” everyone? A sobering thought indeed.

    I wonder, Laura, how many people (if any) told you, or hinted, that you would not be able to combine the kind of career you have while also having three children? Especially without having had over a decade to “lean in” to your career?

    Overall, my favourite part of this book (and the reason it has been so reviled) is that it is a narrative that gives women power, rather than allowing them to maintain the status of being a “victim” to the system. Those who dislike Sandberg’s message imply that she is saying that rather being victims, women are the one’s to blame for their own situation. But why would anyone rather be a victim than a person who has significant opportunities to improve their lives?

    1. @Nadia- I think the book is worth reading, but just a heads up that there isn’t that much in there on negotiating splitting household tasks. There’s some on splitting childcare, but neither Sandberg nor her husband have a large domestic load, one can imagine. Her point is mostly that you choose a good man and get off on the right foot. If you never start doing the chores, you never work on getting rid of them, which is an easier place to be in. Though one stat that might help your case with your husband: apparently couples that split domestic tasks evenly have more sex!

      As for the split of childcare, I underlined another passage about how after the birth of their first kid, Sheryl’s husband was in another place for work, and commuting for weekends. “Since I was with the baby full-time, the great majority of child care fell to me. The division of labor felt uneven and strained our marriage. We hired a nanny, but she couldn’t solve all our problems; the emotional support and shared experience that a spouse provides cannot be bought.”

      Whatever amount of help you can afford, single parenting is still tough. You have a nanny for 50 hours, there are still 118 other hours in the week, and with a baby, you see a lot of them.

  15. I keep coming back to that quote, “The more satisfied a person is with her position, the less likely she is to leave.” This strikes me as a little odd because it implies that leaving or staying is all up to the woman, that it has to do with her preferences rather than her capabilities or with other people’s preferences.

    I was asked to leave a job when my kids were little. I wasn’t outright fired, but I was put on probation. Kids were not specifically mentioned, but family responsibilities were the reason I was not performing as expected. I found it completely demoralizing to be on probation and I found another (lower paying, more flexible) job and left before the probationary period was over. I think that was what was intended: they wanted to get rid of me and wanted everyone to be able to save face while doing it. It was important to me to make it look voluntary at the time, and I did. But I didn’t really have much of a choice. There was another article going around Facebook recently that was titled, “what happens when you lean in and fall down?” I still wonder what the answer to that is.

    1. You get laid off, like I did.

      Too many of these stories focus on the successes.

      Few focus on the failures.

      I had a stillbirth, then a complicated twin pregnancy while my division was being cut by 40%.

      I chose not to try commuting to Italy.

      1. @TG – I’m not sure what you’re reading, but the reason I write as I do is I got so tired of hearing of all the failures. All the stories of why women can’t have it all. Remember those magazine covers? That’s what gets the press. I have no idea what media you subscribe to (other than reading my blog) where there are lots and lots of stories of women successfully combining work and family, but please tell me what it is so I can start reading too!

        1. women are seeking not the “she is so great” but the “I have done it” and it was a fight but here is HOW.. let me help you… compassionate and socially active success… also we need to help each other accept the unlike button… and help each other negotiate.. one of the best ways to negotiate is to have the bxlls (excuse the patriarchy) to take a negotiation to the edge… women are socialized to fear that edge whereas men are socialized to thrive on it…

        2. @Laura, If you want those types of stories, you should read literature targeted at girls and young women that attempts to interest them in careers in science. Go to conferences on girls’ STEM education or presentations by Societies of Women Engineers or Women in X field. Most universities, graduate and professional schools, alumni associations, and professional societies have such groups these days. Also check out the websites and other publicity materials–or just do a google search–for foundations and funding agencies, including the biggies such as the Macarthur Foundation, the Nobel Foundation, NIH, NSF, the National Medal of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. All these groups take great pains these days to highlight women’s successes when they can find them. If there’s ever a woman awardee, you can guarantee she will receive a great deal of coverage and publicity that year, and stories about how she balanced career and family and household chores will figure prominently in the coverage. For example, the year Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn both won the Nobel Prize, we got to hear about the fact that Greider sometimes does her own laundry, and that Blackburn was not averse to feeding children bagel bites.

          These groups do good work, and the stories help. But only to a point. I think the backlash against Sandberg and Marissa Mayer is evidence that we may have reached the limits of what the role model approach can really accomplish.

          In the end, young people have to find their own way, they can’t just copy what worked for other people, no matter how great those role models might be. What they really need, and what never gets old or provokes a backlash, is good mentoring (rather than role modeling). And good mentors can come from any ethnicity or either gender.

          1. I’m also part of the Society of Women Engineers, so I read tons of success stories there.

    2. @Karen – hopefully you brush yourself off and get back up again. Building a career can be tough, and many careers involve set backs. Men and women. We look at family issues for women, and then make large sweeping social statements because of it, but men get pushed out of jobs too, and see careers sidetracked. The question is what you then do to pull upon your stores of resilience and move on.

      One of the more interesting parts of Sandberg’s book is how she talks about things that didn’t go 100% right with what has ultimately turned out to be a meteoric career. It took her a while to land the Google job after she moved to Silicon Valley. Like a year. In retrospect it seems brilliant, but one can imagine what she was thinking about her life as she was past 30, trying to switch careers, divorced, etc. I’m guessing she wouldn’t have thought that in 12 years she’d be considered the poster child for women who have it all.

      1. Mika B. (not looking up how to spell her last name right now) from Morning Joe has a similar story. Unemployed for a stretch, then forced to go back to entry-level work, but now a big name and finally with a salary commensurate to what the guys are making. I found her book spellbinding.

      2. I have two male friends who have been in similar positions (on probation–one at the same company I was) and they stayed, they “toughed it out” or whatever, weathered the bad situation and remained in those jobs. One of them recently told me (approximately 6 years later) that he just received a really good promotion at the company that he was almost fired from 6 years ago. He outlasted his problematic (and from what he said, abusive) boss. She’s gone and he’s still standing. It’s possible I could have done that too, I suppose. And sometimes I have looked back and wondered whether I could or should have acted more like those men, rather than leaving. But while I was on probation, I truly started to hate coming into work. My husband and I experienced marital stress and strife between ourselves and more strife with our child care provider over my newly rigid hours. And, I started having emotional and physical symptoms due to stress and anxiety. It was around then that I first kept a time log and one of the things I discovered was that I spent hours per week dealing with those symptoms. I would need 15-20 minutes to recover from each encounter with my supervisor. I would need time to clean up around my desk from the stress-related snacking I was doing (not to mention the time I spent on the stress eating itself). I would feel tired and drugged from the antihistamines I was taking because of the weird allergies and skin rashes I was experiencing. A concerned (female) friend told me, “your job is making you sick, you have to get out of there.” And I did. Maybe his friends wouldn’t have told a man the same thing. Maybe a man wouldn’t have reacted the same way. I don’t know. But I do think my reaction was reasonable and rational, it wasn’t crazy or wrong or lacking in will or ambition. If the message really is, just suck it up, tough it out, and be the last (wo)man still standing, that’s not going to be a very appealing, or practical, message for most people.

        Now that I’m further along in my career I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and work with a few people who toughed it out like that. While some, like my male friend who just got the promotion, seem to have kept a sense of humility and perspective about themselves through it all, just as often, they are the ones who are least sympathetic to other people’s struggles. Instead, they are prone to self-righteous posturing of the “In my day, I walked to school 5 miles in the snow uphill both ways, you pampered young people are such whiners” variety.

      3. It shows bxllx that she asked for a divorce at 25.. it shows an ability to take negotiation (marriage) to the edge and risk failure… those are admirable qualities we need in our women… and we need to foster in ourselves and our daughters while also helping them to be happy…

  16. Maybe it’s because I live in flyover country, but I just don’t come across alot of mothers here who feel like they were put on the “mommy track” whether they wanted it or not…or whose husband nudged them out of a high-flying career to stay home with the kids. From where I sit, it looks like the vast majority of the mothers I know are pretty much in the position they want to be in. Sure, alot of them have angst about being able to juggle everything, but at the end of the day the ones who are SAHMs, work part-time, or whose career takes a back seat to husband are mostly in the roles they want to be in, and almost none are saying anything along the lines of “I could have been the next Sheryl Sandberg.” Not trying to deny sexism or to deny there are unique pressures on women, I’m just telling you what I see in reality. In fact, I’ve been seeing more of the opposite problem, where a SAHM won’t get a job even though the kiddos are long past the age of needing a SAHM. In other words, she’s effectively taken an early retirement. Just my two Abe Lincolns.

    1. I completely agree with you. Most women don’t want to be Sheryl Sandberg, nor are most women willing to risk/go through divorce for an egalitarian marriage.

  17. I just finished reading the sample of Lean In and I am probably going to buy it. I get from your review and my sample that this is directed at younger women. But is it too late to “Lean In” at almost 50 now that my kids are beginning to leave the nest? I’ve made them my career (I founded a school and did some homeschooling) and now I long for my “own life”. I’ve had so much to overcome in order to do what I did for them that now part of me wants to relax and the ambitious part of me wants to take off. I’m hoping and praying for a revelation.

    1. @Elizabeth
      It is never too late. I have talked to many many women of your generation (and the one right above you) who have gone out and had major careers after their kids were older or grown. In fact, Claudia Goldin finds that for the previous generation, that’s what having it all meant, first kids, then career, but not at the same time.

      If you want inspiration, Nancy Pelosi started her political career when her youngest kids were in high school.

    2. @Elizabeth – I’m sure you’ll figure out the right thing for you! What I’ve discovered is that if I love the work I’m pursuing, “taking off” (or leaning in, whatever terminology we’re using) feels a lot less stressful than if I don’t. It actually feels kind of relaxing to get into the flow of writing something I can see taking shape. There certainly isn’t much else I’d want to be doing more.

    3. One of my professors in college did her PhD after staying home for years with her kids. I think our culture is becoming more accepting/understanding of the different paths people take.

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