There’s been much debate over Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In. Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and I’ve been a fan since viewing her TED Talk from 2010 about women in leadership - it has more than two million views, so I can’t be the only one.
So the uproar early reviews of Lean In attracted was a bit surprising. Let me disclose that I have not read the full book, only excerpts and reviews, but totally look forward to reading the full text. From what I have seen, Sandberg does acknowledge that the business system is not conducive to women’s choices and then she commits the mortal sin of suggesting that women play a role in holding themselves back due to internal barriers and beliefs. Her critics have raged that Sandberg is “privileged” with domestic help and childcare, therefor she is not qualified to suggest that her life is the same as a working single parent.
No, her life is not the same and that’s not the point. Sandberg is very upfront about her own self-doubt and lack of confidence as a young girl growing up. She claims to be “lucky” that others saw her potential and nurtured it. And now as she mentors women, she is hearing some of the same concerns and doubts that she experienced. She has witnessed women “leaning back” instead of forward to take on leadership roles. Many women lean back because they are concerned about how leaning in may impact a relationship or family.
What about you? Which way do you lean? My experience has been the same as Sandberg’s in that there were times I was eager to lean in – and other times to opt out. Both decisions come with consequences and that is the conversation we should really be having with each other.
My own decision to lean back came right after a reorganization in the company I madly, passionately loved – still do. Unfortunately, the reorg eliminated my position and the company did offer me a similar role at two other locations, just not where I happened to live. The problem? I was also madly passionately in love with a single father who could not move away from his two young children. Our relationship was serious and I knew this was “the one.” I opted to lean back, left the company and ultimately married a wonderful man. Interestingly enough, my future husband never asked me to stay on his behalf – it was totally my decision.
Did it set me back professionally? It certainly sent me down a different path with unexpected outcomes. I have not accomplished the goals I dreamed I would and for many years that bothered me – until I came to the realization that my choices to spend time with my family are just that – mine. No one forced me to stay, get married or make sacrifices for my family. It was my decision. And, it was a decision that my husband probably would not have made. I’m okay with that, too.
Coming to that realization has brought me much peace. I am strategically looking for the right opportunity to lean in again. I’ve served on boards and lent talent in other places, but now I’m gearing up for a bigger commitment – although I’m not certain what that is just yet. Condeleeza Rice made an interesting comment about women pursuing careers and juggling family responsibilities. She called it “sequencing” and noted that many of our hearts desires are attainable – as long as we understand it’s just not all at the same time. Do bias and injustices exist when it comes to working? You betcha! Sandberg’s question is “what are you going to do about that?”
So I ask again, where have you leaned back and when have you leaned in? Do we as women sacrifice our goals because it’s expected, or because there is also a personal reward or benefit from these choices? It seems to me that to cry out “they won’t let me” is supporting the internal barriers Sandberg discusses in her book. What message and lessons will you create for your daughters when it comes to being ambitious?