Sheryl Sandberg & What We Really Need

I’ve read articles about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In that make me want to read it. I’ve also read articles that make me want to run away from it. One of the articles I read discussed the idea that women should not turn down career opportunities because they expected to get pregnant. Rather, they should accept opportunities and deal with the potential complications later.

I was thinking what horrible advice this was, that it was the exact opposite of what I did. When I got married I hoped to have kids quickly. I purposely switched careers to find something more flexible. I was feeling smug. Then, I remembered – I’m not a high powered executive. I’m not even a low powered executive. I’m not an executive of any sort, and actually, I don’t want to be.

I want to have meaningful work, that pays me decently and leaves me time to spend with my kids. I imagine there are plenty of women and men who feel the same way. I imagine if you swap “kids” for “family” or “life” there are plenty of single and childless people who feel the same way as well.

In a lot of the discussion of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg people are debating the wrong things. The question isn’t if women should still be able to become CEOs if they take maternity leave. The question isn’t even if parents should be able to reach the highest levels of work life if they take flex time or parental leave.

Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t. There are very few high powered jobs that can be done part time, or 100% from home, or can be achieved if you leave for a year every two years to have a baby. It’s not sexist or anti-feminist to say that people need to make choices about what’s most important to them. It’s sexist for employers (or society) to decide FOR a woman (or a man) that she will or should make certain choices. It’s sexist to deny people the right to make those choices for themselves.

We do not need more ways for women (or men) to have satisfying family lives and very high powered careers. There are relatively few men and women who will ever become CEOs. Worrying about how to get more of one gender or another in those ranks, doesn’t seem that important to me. Learning how to make life more comfortable or balanced for that cohort also doesn’t seem that important to me.

What we do need though is more ways for women and men to have lives that are satisfying both professionally and personally. We need more jobs available to men and women that pay a decent wage without requiring 50 plus hours a week of work.

We need more ways for men and women to do their mid-level and upper-mid-level and low-level jobs and still have time for their families. We need more low-level jobs that pay a decent wage.

Yes, any woman who wants to work 80 hours a week should have just as much a chance at becoming CEO as any man who wants to work 80 hours a week. But honestly, most of us don’t want to do that.

Where are the manifestos for the rest of us?

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One Response to Sheryl Sandberg & What We Really Need

  1. Kate says:

    I’m about halfway through it now, and she addresses a lot of these issues. She acknowledges very early on that many women have much more basic concerns of keeping their families fed and sheltered — and she comes back to that point again and again, including in the current chapter on work and childcare. She’s also acknowledged about once every 10 pages that most of the issues she addresses would be “nice problems to have” for many people. That being said, she feels there’s not enough guidance for and/or discussion of the challenges facing women in the workplace who want to be “career-loving parents” — not just CEOs or billionaires, but people who love their jobs AND their families, and this book is an effort to support those efforts. (Which is not to say that she rejects a different approach — I’m not a mom, but to my ear, she spends a lot of time talking about NOT judging or punishing men or women who step away from the workplace to focus on their families.)

    It’s not really a manifesto — more of a “best practices” discussion for those who want to maintain a significant role in both arenas. And she talks a fair amount about how the decisions faced by junior/entry-level employees, including her own decision to not take a job because she and her husband were trying to get pregnant. I don’t want to run a network, or even necessarily my own show, but I want work that interests me and gives me opportunities to grow, and as an overview of what’s worked for another woman, I’m finding it pretty useful.

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