Sheryl Sandberg’s Revolutionary “Lean In”

WHITE BOOK

WASHINGTON – Critics like Anne-Marie Slaughter, but especially Maureen I-Love-My-Pearls Dowd, and others [most of whom didn't read the book or do their homework] who are blaming Sheryl Sandberg for being a billionaire Ivy League graduate, while accusing her of letting corporations and government off the hook, are missing a major point. Unless women speak up and confront their bosses and reach out to congressional representatives as well, nothing will change.

Sandberg’s got a sister in Norma Rae, Lily Ledbetter, too. She also had good advice from a man.

“First he said, ‘Sheryl, don’t be an idiot.’ Which is excellent career advice,” Sandberg said. The year was 2001. Schmidt had just become CEO of Google, when the company had fewer than 1,000 employees. “But the next thing he said was, ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.’ [ABC News]

Being a charter member of the modern feminist revolution, there when it began in the 1970s, no one ever told me I could even have it all, which I’ve written about before. Choices had to be made when I was coming up. Sandberg’s another generation, younger than myself or Anne-Marie Slaughter, so it’s absolutely critical that being part of a younger generation she make the argument that women are going to have to lean in to get what hasn’t yet manifested. My hope is that Sandberg has the toughness and power to push the women’s revolution forward, which is definitely stuck, something that’s been proven by Anne-Marie Slaughter and other Sandberg critics.

Sandberg should welcome the controversy and luckily for modern women, she is. It’s better than the usual “women can’t have it all” or “we can’t have it all yet” mantra, which utilizes arguments that take the power away from women and put it in government or corporation hands, which amounts to making us all powerless, except to whine.

No one ever said it would be easy.

From the Introduction of Sandberg’s Lean In:

Women face real obstacles in the professional world, including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination, and sexual harassment. Too few workplaces offer the flexibility and access to child care and parental leave that are necessary for pursuing a career while raising children. Men have an easier time finding the mentors and sponsors who are invaluable for career progression. Plus, women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do. And this is not just in our heads. A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. 14

Lean In intends to light up the Norma Rae thread in us all. Rae was powerless, until she harnessed who she was. She was in a hopelessly low paying job, until she dared to join up with a larger force to help her make a difference. She was threatened by the corporation, and The Man, but knew she couldn’t back down or she’d never get what she and others, including men, but also her children, deserved.

Obviously not everyone is Norma Rae. But you don’t have to be an Ivy League billionaire to be one. Speaking out is part of leadership, no matter the level, because leadership isn’t a class issue, it’s a matter of heart.

There will always be women who can’t stand up, because they have no power in their job and feel oppressed, perhaps because they’re a minority or for other reasons. No one is denying this fact. However, those who have the opportunity to create an avenue to start change rolling have a responsibility to themselves and all other women to do so.

It’s how the women’s revolution got started in the first place. Progress demands we all be part of a greater drive, which is exactly what Sandberg wants to inspire.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a terrifically bright woman who was important to the foreign policy hierarchy at the top levels. But she has to take responsibility for deciding to give it all back, because she wanted to go home. That’s her choice, but what she did after making her choice is offer the same old rhetoric that has gotten modern women exactly nowhere. No doubt part of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ire toward Sheryl Sandberg’s book is because she names what is done too often by women who make it. They quit their jobs to go home.

We are different generations, Sandberg is also from an Ivy League, two parent reality, myself coming from a barely middle class, pull myself up by my own tenacity and determination underdog reality. I’ve been leaning in my whole life, political from the start because I grew up in the age of Gloria, Steinem, that is. An artistic performer, including Broadway by vocation, evolving into a writer and author whose activist eye has always been focused on the politics of sex and how women can continue to rise to greater power, as each of us endeavors to change our corner of the world.

Sandberg’s book was just published Monday, so I’ve not finished it yet. But in what I’ve read so far and in all the research and reading I’ve done on the subject prior to the book’s publication, including Sandberg’s own words, minus the Lean In groups on which I don’t intend to comment, everything I’ve learned so far about her message is on the money and long overdue to be said.

This includes picking the right mate when we’re dating and looking toward a long-term relationship, something I’ve been writing about for two decades. Sheryl Sandberg stresses this point in her book, which for me is the most important point of all, because it’s the least mentioned point in the discussion about how women can reignite a revolution that’s been stalled for two decades.

“Everyone knows marriage is the biggest personal decision you make. But it’s the biggest career decision you make.”Sheryl Sandberg [60 Minutes interview with Norah O'Donnell]

An excerpt from Sandberg’s introduction is below [numbers are footnotes], a vision that makes the case that American women are the leaders the world needs and that we can no longer wait for government and corporations to react and put women in leading positions. Women must lean in and lead wherever we can and we cannot stop until we get the job done.

The blunt truth is that men still run the world. Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women. 3 Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally. 4 In the United States, where we pride ourselves on liberty and justice for all, the gender division of leadership roles is not much better. Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s. 5 Since then, women have slowly and steadily advanced, earning more and more of the college degrees, taking more of the entry-level jobs, and entering more fields previously dominated by men. Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. 6 A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. 7 Women hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials. 8 The gap is even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats. 9 While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, women’s voices are not heard equally.

Progress remains equally sluggish when it comes to compensation. In 1970, American women were paid 59 cents for every dollar their male counterparts made. By 2010, women had protested, fought, and worked their butts off to raise that compensation to 77 cents for every dollar men made. 10 As activist Marlo Thomas wryly joked on Equal Pay Day 2011, “Forty years and eighteen cents. A dozen eggs have gone up ten times that amount.” 11


Taylor Marsh, is an author and veteran political analyst who has contributed to Huffington Post, The Hill, U.S. News & World Report, as well as cable outfits from Al Jazeera to CNN and beyond. A former Broadway performer, Miss Missouri in the Miss American Pageant, Marsh also dabbled in radio and wrote, directed and produced her one-woman show “Weeking for J.F.K.” Author of The Hillary Effect, Marsh’s book is available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media magazine www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women, foreign policy, and culture.

  

11 Comments

  1. I am the husband of a woman living in this reality. We are at the point now where having a biological child, as opposed to adopted, is a now or never decision. She is torn by her own bias that a woman has to slow down in order to have a child, even though I have told her that I would take a back seat and as much responsibility for our baby as a man biologically can. But slowing down is still too scary..giving up what has been earned at a large price, too much cost.

    I can accept the decision to not have a child, but will she regret it 10 years from now? who knows?

  2. Tough decision, SL.

  3. Appreciate you sharing your story, ShannonLeee. I’ve been child-free by choice all my life, making the decision very early, never flinching from it and today it remains the only course that was right for me.

    This is a very important subject.

    Sandberg’s book should be read by everyone, women and the men who love us.

  4. Yes, tough, but I don’t think it is something that should be done hesitantly. I am only in if she is 100% in, but I only think she would be 100% because she knows that it is something I want to do…and that is not 100% enough for me.

    Taylor, I am pretty sure my wife would be content with not having a child…pretty sure. It is not something you can put into your bucket list so it needs to be decided before it is unsafe for the baby. I saw the book on the daily show, thought it would be a great book to have, when there is time to read :)

  5. ShannonLeee — My husband and I are in the same position, with the exception that I do know for sure that I want to have kids, and have always wanted to be a mom. Sadly, that knowledge doesn’t seem to make it much easier. It doesn’t take away the very real worries we both have about how that’s going to work in a household where we usually combine for over 120 work hours per week. It doesn’t make me see any less of myself in the stories about the professional woman with a career trajectory that could be spectacular, but that becomes totally out of reach because the woman dropped out of the workplace for a few years to have children. Good luck to you and your wife on figuring it all out, maybe let me know if you do?

    Anyway, maybe the book will have some ideas on possible mitigations. I pre-ordered it a few weeks ago, and now it seems to be waiting happily in my kindle app, so here’s hopin’!

  6. Hey roro80. The book is terrific, as far as I’ve read.

    Sandberg says what I’ve told women, back when I was a relationship consultant, which is if you’re going to have children & keep your career, the guy has to be in on all domestic chores. There can be no gender divide on that if you’re going to have both.

    Sandberg also says that women need to keep the career & keep moving, but lean in at work, too, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. You’ll be a teacher at your job to the men in charge, women, too, if they don’t get what it’s like to be a mother.

    As she also says and most women who choose career & kids, there are trade offs, because there has to be.

    A lot depends on whether your husband can do his 50% and no less.

    Fingers crossed for you all, too.

    ShannonLeee – It’s a real easy read. Lots of great stories about life and Sandberg is very humble and open.

  7. The quoted introduction is pretty shocking, although it doesnt’ come as a surprise. Looks like a book that should be required reading.

  8. Thanks Taylor for the advice. Luckily hubby and I have a pretty good balance at home now. Basically we’ve developed a rule over time: if both of us think we’re doing 75% of the work, it’s likely that 90% of the work is getting done, which is close enough. We’ve talked a lot about possible work schedule modifications for both of us — maybe one of us does 4/5 and the other does 3/5 until the roro spawn are old enough for pre-school, something like that. We both agree that kids or not, neither of us can individually or collectively continue to work as hard as we have been for the last couple of years without a breakdown occurring, so we’re going to need to change our lifestyles anyway. Having and raising children, besides being something we both want to do, will be a good excuse for a long-needed momentum change. We’ll just have to be very diligent that the changes aren’t too lobsided.

    I’ll definitely read the book.

  9. roro80, Friends used au pairs from South America and it worked really well for them. Provides you with much more flexibility. I think they were college students taking a break to earn more money for school. I think they had year long contracts with each. We found the younger years to be the easiest to juggle work and home because they basically can only get into so much trouble. The teenage years with too much time without a parent around are the problem imho.

  10. au pairs are great, most of the time. You have to be careful with anyone you bring into your home. I have friends that found their children picking up bad habits from their exchange students. Gotta be careful.

    It turns out that my wife read a couple of articles about the book. I think I will just pick it up when we are in the US next week.

    roro, sounds like we are living the same story :)

  11. Now that is an idea I had not thought of at all. Interesting; I’d have to give it some thought. My husband’s best friend since childhood runs a mini “Daddy Day Care” for his daughter and another kid, and he has said he’s willing to take on another if we want to use him — sounds like a great option, and he only lives 2 miles from us.

    Shannon — It certainly does!

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