FACEBOOK’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has received a lot of criticism for her book ‘LEAN IN’. It offers advice for working women who are expecting to have children, whether they return to work or not. In many ways it is about having choices. She is also keen on fathers having a choice so that each set of parents make career/home decisions based on their desires and resources.
Whilst running the online sales and operations groups at Google in 2004 Sandberg became pregnant. With continuous nausea she wanted to be able to move swiftly from the car park to the office but would find herself at the far end of the car park. As a senior woman at Google it never occurred to her that pregnant women might need designated parking but now it had and she could use her power to improve it for herself and those who come after.
She shares another memory of a residential team meeting where a colleague, who had recently become a mother, was continuously staring at her phone. The colleague said nothing but she was obviously distracted. On enquiry they found out that her mother and baby were accompanying her on trip and she was needed to settle her child. Once she shared this she was immediately released from the meeting. Part of the book is about communicating important information to the right people. Unfortunately, not all leaders or organisations know how to work with expectant or new mothers.
Sandberg quotes various studies where the men are much more ambitious and expectant of success than the women. In her experience women tend to have more self-doubt and need encouragement to ‘lean in’. A 2003 Colombia Business School study looked at the likeability of successful women. They found that for the same person description, when the successful person was called Heidi she was not liked or trusted but when he was named Howard all was fine. The participants’ gender bias meant it was acceptable for a man, Howard, to be decisive and driven but not for a woman (Heidi). Women are expected to be caregiving and sensitive.
The central advice is for women to not mentally exit the workplace before they physically leave. She refers to women not taking opportunities in the present because they hope to be a mother in the future. In her mind this is the time to ‘lean in’ and make progress. This leads her to talk about partnerships in parenting. She quotes various studies showing the benefits for all when fathers are involved in even basic childcare. On the theme of partnership she quotes a Fortune 500 study on CEO’s; of 28 women, 26 were married, 1 divorced and 1 never married.
Sandberg is honest about ‘the myth of having it all’ as she shares her parental failings and the guilt she feels when travelling for work and missing her family. Lean In seeks to advise women seeking career success and those with the power to make the workplace more flexible. In her opinion it’s not a career ladder but a “jungle gym”. Eventually she hopes that by “using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will be more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow stereotypes”.