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Books Sheryl SandbergI know you must be sitting on the edge of your seat, so let’s dish more about Sheryl Sandberg’s highly criticized book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I wrote a brief post back on March 22 which highlighted points Ms. Sandburg discussed on a TED talk.  To recap, the main points were also in the book but let’s touch on them again.

Sit at the table:  this is my favorite one of Ms. Sandberg’s points.  This simply means that you should not stay invisible.  Speak up, ask questions, and share your ideas.  And on the occasions where this is done at a physical table, sit at the table and not at one of the chairs against the wall. I have been working with a client who treats herself as unworthy of “sitting at the table” even though on many occasions she is doing the presenting.   As we talk through her reasoning, it is plain and simple – she hasn’t given herself permission to be worthy.  Instead she has listened to the pessimism of all others who are too scared to sit at the table and over time she has let it apply to herself as well.  This person is well versed in her professional arena, has a great pedigree, amazing curiosity and a rare ability to openly welcome and hear everyone’s ideas.   Of course no one will tell her to sit at the table if they are too scared to do it themselves.  She simply needs to pull out a chair.

Make your partner a true partner:  Ok, this one is very hard for me to digest.  My husband recently told me about an interview where Michele Obama mistakenly referred to herself as a single mother and then stated that being married to the president is like being a single mother.  Duh! Gals, here’s the deal… IF you have a spouse and he happens to resemble June Cleaver that’s just great!  But for the remainder of us, creating your life infrastructure as if you were a single mother can be incredibly helpful and freeing.  We will talk about the critics who point to lack of money as a barrier to this below.  First, Sheryl (I’m a casual first name kind of gal), let’s get into this century.  I have no idea what the percentage of single mothers are out there but I bet it’s a bazillion.   I don’t actually think she was trying to be dismissive (she actually sites stats on single mothers), but strategically she really should have thought this one through a bit more.  Second, in addition to the bazillion single mothers, there is another large chunk who have husbands who have leaned in so far to their careers that they don’t even know where the kids go to school.  I really do adore my husband, however he did miss the birth of our second child.  It was the last time I was left without a backup plan.  For the record, he does know where our kids’ school is and shows up like clockwork when his presence is requested.

In this section and later in the book, Sheryl suggests that if more husbands stay at home while more women become the single income it will help the whole cause.  I think she has missed the point that it’s not just about a choice, but in today’s world it takes two incomes to raise a family in many instances.  Public schools aren’t what they used to be – when we lived in California you were expected to donate money to the school at registration.  In the town where we live now to simply register my three children for school I paid somewhere around $800.  And this is before all the fund-raising starts!

Making ‘your partner your true partner’ is not the answer.  Creating an infrastructure that fits your family, spouse or no spouse, is the answer.  I believe this with all of my heart.

Don’t leave before you leave:  I must repeat – I LOVE this one!!  Soon after I had my first child I interviewed for a position.  And I know you will be shocked, or sadly you might not be, but the VP the position supported said to me that he was concerned that I might not be able to jump on a plane at the last-minute.  After I picked my jaw off the floor I explained I had an extensive support system.  To this day, 10 years into motherhood, with three children, I have never once declined a business trip.  In fact, on occasion I have been on a plane to Europe within hours of being notified.

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I had no idea what to expect.  I was used to working from 5am to 7am, being at the office at 7:30am and leaving at who knew when depending on the day.  I checked in with a woman in the office (who today is one of my dearest friends) whose career was ramping up quickly.  She told me about Au Pair Care.  I visited day cares and looked at day nannies but determined a live in au pair gave us the most flexibility and I could not afford a live in American nanny.  In fact, at that time an au pair was less expensive than putting an infant in a day care facility.

So let’s get to the critics who incessantly talk about Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and Sheryl’s privileged lifestyles where they can hire everything out.  My family’s combined income at the time we had our first child was half of mine alone today. We lived in a three bedroom apartment in Boston and we shared one bathroom with our au pair.  And there were many times I had groceries delivered which many think to be a perk – but we didn’t buy steak, we bought ground beef.  And there wasn’t arugula, it was ice urg lettuce.  Plain and simple, you have time and money for what you want to have time and money for.  Now I have three children and my child care has only gone up by the increase in agency fees.

So for the critics, stop complaining and finding excuses, if money is the excuse why you “leave before you leave” – it could possibly be fear, it could be one of a million things – but I would bet it is not really money.  Work on the fear or whatever you find the issue is, leave your options open until you decide if you really want to leave.  Do not put yourself in a corner.

This applies to another section of the book – The Myth of Doing It All.  At some point in the book she was describing a female doctor who had been debating taking a promotion to oversee seventy-five doctors in 5 clinics.  The woman informs her husband she was taking the job as she handed him the grocery list.  All I could think is ‘why is she buying the groceries’.  Unless buying them gives her a sense of accomplishment that she craves, she should hand that off – to a service (they might charge a nominal amount for delivery) or her babysitter, promotion or no promotion.

One more section of the book that deserves note is chapter 4 – It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder.  This applies to men and women.  I can’t stress this one enough – if you are aiming for the top of whatever it is that you do – a straight line is very rarely the way to get there.  I have worked with, managed and worked for many individuals who dug in their heels when offered a lateral move. Depending on the size of the organization you work for, there is a level at which doing a few lateral moves may get you further, faster than becoming too specialized.  And who knows – you might actually find that your passion lies elsewhere.

With the exception of ‘make your partner a true partner’, I very much liked this book.  There is much to learn from it and we can all recognize ourselves in some of the examples.  There is a section where she describes a marathon where both a man and women start at the same time.  While the man receives constant encouragement, the woman is given messages such as “Good start – but you probably won’t want to finish”.  As I read this section of the book, I could hear the man who told me his concern about getting on a last-minute flight.  I could hear my mother, my sister, even friends in my head, their voices sending me the same messages over the last 20 years.  I cried, I really cried.  As much as I try to ignore it, the messages are all around us.  But long as they keep being delivered, I will keep sitting at the table.  I will raise my hand, I will Lean In just a bit more.

There are many critics out there who keep throwing Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg and other highly successful women in the media under the proverbial bus.  They state that their income levels, their education, their silver spoons have gotten them there and kept them there.  For every one of these women, I bet you can find 5 men who were born with a silver spoon that never made anything of themselves.  And even more importantly, I am confident that you can find 10 people who did not have the benefit of ivy league schools or trust funds that are incredibly successful.  I put myself and my husband in that bucket – small towns, state colleges, no MBA, but we are uniquely us and can do a job as no one else can.

If you are one of those 10 – please share your story right here.  There are many more of us than there are Marissas and Sheryls.  While the ‘marathon’ type messages are out there, we do not become victims – instead sit at the table and decide for ourselves if and when we want to leave.

Cheers to Sheryl for beginning this discussion.