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.