My trip through Lean In continues this week with chapters 5 through 8. While I found the first third of the book to be a helpful account of some of the attitudinal prejudices facing women in the workforce (and some reasonable strategies for coping with them), the middle third is not doing it for me. It may be because large swaths of it are about parenting (and I am not a parent), but I also find the advice to be less follow-able. Finding a good husband is not as straight-forward as collecting “kudos” emails from co-workers to share at your performance review, you know?
Sheryl uses these four chapters to discuss the “work life balance” question (the old WLB? Can we call it that?), and spends, in my opinion, an awful lot of time discussing guilt in its various forms and not quite enough time on institutionally sexist policies that reinforce that guilt. For example, I’d love to see a real discussion about how childcare arrangements can be influenced by gendered policies. If you’ve got 3 months paid maternity leave, and your husband has two weeks of all-purpose family leave, well, who do you think is going to take a step back from work for a while? Rather than allowing each family to find the right balance for themselves, these policies put strong economic incentives behind traditional gender roles.
Anyway, there was definitely still some good stuff in there, and I continue to think that if nothing else, Lean In is asking the right questions and starting the right conversations. From Chapters 5 through 8:
- Managing a Business vs. Managing a Career – Sandberg observes that a lot of the questions she gets from young women revolve around career decision-making, rather than business-decision making. While these questions are valid, they are not impressive, and the clear-thinking, insightful, carefully plannd business questions she gets from young men are the ones that really show off your smarts. This is particularly relevant, she says, when looking for a mentor. Rather than ask for help managing your career trajectory, ask a mentor to help you solve the toughest questions you face in your current role so you can be the best employee ever.
- No Such Thing as Objective Truth – There is my point of view, and there is your point of view, but there is rarely an absolute truth to a situation. Beginning from “here’s my take, now tell me yours” is a quicker, more gracious way to figure out where the sticking points are then coming out of the gate swinging about the Way Things Are. So,… approach work convos like marital counseling? Lots of “I” statements.
- The Problem with “Telephone” – The higher up you get, the more your employees will take your words as gospel, and they more they will get repeated. From co-worker to co-worker, simple ideas can get twisted into messy ones, and nuanced ones get oversimplified. Don’t trust the message to get through eight rounds of telephone intact, so make sure that everyone who needs to get it is in on the first round.
- The Whole Self – The arrival of smart phones etc has in many ways made the division of “professional time” and “personal time” obsolete. Consequently, the idea of having a professional self and a personal self that are separate personas is increasingly hard to maintain. Sheryl’s POV (which I share) is that we are happier and more productive when we bring our “whole selves” to work. That can be as simple as sharing basic truths about ourselves (i.e. a gay employee confidently hanging framed family photos in the office) to allowing ourselves to be more emotional at work. That we are parents, windsurfers, marathoners, ukelele-players, volunteers, pet-owners, highly trained chefs, fluent in Spanish, or bloggers on the side (ahem), doesn’t need to be a secret.
- “Career-Loving Parent” – The “working mom” title can be a big cross to bear, fraught as it is with connotations about being neither fully-committed to your parenting, nor fully-committed to your career. Sandberg cites a friend who prefers “Career-Loving Parent,” as a better, more accurate, more positive spin on the old standby. It’s also gender-neutral, which can allow women to confidently own the “career-loving” part, and men to confidently own the “parent” part.
- “The Designated Parent” – Apparently, the Census Bureau still refers to the mother as the “designated parent” even in two-parent households. I find that pretty insulting, and I know a bunch of dads who probably feel the same way. More broadly, this kind of nomenclature carries with it all sorts of assumptions about caretaking and division of labor. When mothers take care of their kids, it’s “parenting.” When fathers take care of their kids, it’s “babysitting.” That’s clearly some serious b.s. and it’s easy to see how it puts extra expectations on women and demeans men. Not good for anyone.
- Maternal Gatekeeping – This is a cool one, since I’ve never heard this term before. It refers to moms who constantly instruct their husbands on how to parent or criticize their techniques. It results in the “Oh here, just let me do it,” mentality that eventually contributes to severely lopsided divisions of labor. In the short term, it seems like the quicker solution, but in the longterm, it creates patterns about who does what that may not be what you want.
- Averaging 50/50 – Even if your goal is to ultimately land at an evenly split division of household labor and child care, you can’t expect it to be perfectly 50/50 at every moment of every day. From week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter, the pendulum can swing between partners on each front, but it has to come out feeling fair or someone’s going to be pretty unhappy.
So yeah. The whole idea of men leaning in to their families while women lean in at work so everyone is happy seems really great. I just don’t have a husband at the moment, so the advice, while probably good, doesn’t feel especially relevant. Let’s talk in 2025, cool?
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