Lean In? Maybe it should be Lean On…

Copyright JC Politi Photography

Copyright JC Politi Photography

According to an editorial in the New York Times this week, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, has a new book coming out this year entitled “Lean In.”

Her main hypothesis is that women internalize the messages surrounding them that they should not be aggressive or assertive and that they frequently make career decisions based on concerns that are not yet real, such as kids or a spouse that have yet to come. She places much of the blame for the lack of women in leadership positions on these issues.

I have written about Sandberg’s theories on this blog in the past. I shared that I have fallen prey to some of these tendencies myself over the course of my career. I certainly know that I am an abysmal negotiator when it comes to my salary; sometimes it seems I am more likely to negotiate down than up.

But I wonder about younger women and if this paradigm is shifting. While the statistics on women in leadership positions remain fairly bleak, young women now have competent role models like Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg and Sonia Sotomayor, whose work encourages them to shoot for the stars.

As I have written before, what has not shifted as much are the workplace policies that allow women and men to find a way to balance a family and a career. There is no question that workplace policies need to shift to enable men, as well as women, to contribute fully in both the workplace and at home if that is what that family chooses.

It seems that young women and men are making more demands of their employers for things like telecommuting and flexible schedules to enable them to better achieve balance. And a number of extremely talented people are making these demands, so companies are forced to choose between accepting these requests and losing talented staff.

The choice for me would be simple. I would choose a balanced, talented staff person any day over someone who is going to work themselves to the bone until they are burned out and unable to contribute. And if all it takes is a flexible work schedule to make that person content over the long-term, who wouldn’t fulfill that request?

What do you think? When do you think we will reach a tipping point and when companies will change their policies to make them more family-friendly? Do you think family friendly policies impact a company’s bottom line? If so, how? Do you think our corporate culture is ready for this shift, or will these change come about as the next generation reaches leadership positions and can force change?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.


Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, equality, Fitness, Home, Income inequality, Parenting, Politcs, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women

16 responses to “Lean In? Maybe it should be Lean On…

  1. Barneysday

    This is no easy matter, and I will leave you with one thought that occurred in a company I was once associated with.

    Management was committed at all levels to equality, on all levels, including pay, promotions, opportunities, travel, and no regards to race or orientation.

    What did occur, and I’m not claiming it was right or wrong, was a growing frustration from some men with their having to substitute for their female peers when travel was required, or weekend or night meetings, or last minute substitutions, because of child care issues. Yes, accomodations need to be made, but there has to be reasonable limits of the expectations that a male colleague will always be available as a substitute.

    One might conclude that the woman who was looking for equality in the workplace, had not worked out equality in the home.

    This is a complex issue, with no easy, one size fits all solution. And the author’s point in today’s NY Times, is exactly correct. Why only 17% representation at Davos?

    Thanks for sharing

    • Hi Barney. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. You are right that this needs to begin in the home. And that is an even bigger rock to push up the hill. But I really think that the problem you raise was because the company didn’t have policies in place to better support parents who work. The fact is that most families have to have two working parents – the economics just don’t work any other way. So family friendly policies – once things are worked out in the home, as you say – should be made to benefit men and women both. To enable more men to spend more time with their kids as well. I agree – there have to be limits since, inevitably, some people will try to take advantage where they can, but we shouldn’t develop policies that cater to the bad eggs when plenty of people can demonstrate that they can be productive and strong contributors even with flexible work schedules that enable them to be there for the big moments in their children’s lives.

      • Barneysday

        And you got to the crux of the problem. Equal coverage for all parents. But then, the burden can’t fall to the “single” employees, either. No easy solutions, just lots of “opportunities”

        • Agreed… Especially as someone who doesn’t have children. Policies need to enable people to pursue whatever their outside passions are… Kids or a Blog or something else. Equality opportunity fulfillment, which I believe leads to higher productivity. Thanks for helping think through this.

  2. HI Jennifer — as Barneysday implied — it begins in the homes — and when the ‘mother’ hasn’t got it there, it’s hard to creatae it in the workplace. It begins in our feminine psyches and in shifting our thinking around what is ‘women’s work’ versus not. and, I know in my mind, I always struggled with letting go of my beliefs around what was women’s work or not!

    And yes, the 17% is a good question. But… 40 years ago, it would have been even less — and while progress is slow, it is happening….

    • Hi Louise! Thank you for the comment! It’s funny – I have put some thought into this and think it is funny to see men in my generation (I just turned 40), like my husband who are the most wonderful cooks and even vacuum! And many women my age have absolutely rebelled against that and won’t step foot in the kitchen. I am kind of in that camp myself. 🙂 The pendulum just has to keep shifting and maybe we will get to a place where things will even out a bit more. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Why does it have to be so complicated? Happy employees are much more productive, so do what it takes to make their lives easier and you are sure to get better results. Oh, and NO there doesn’t need to be 50 meetings to discuss it…it’s common sense.

  4. Jenni, great post. Very thought-provoking. Most companies are very short term oriented, especially if they are publicly traded. Yet, data shows that companies with a longer term mindset who invest in their future will dwarf the success of the others. The best business book I have read is called “Built to Last.” One of the tenets is building a clock rather than just telling time. In other words, build an organization that is built to last. Hiring people who are more balanced is in support of that goal. People who work 60 hours weeks will burn out or flame out. Companies who support the need for flexibility in schedules and worksites will attract and retain people longer. When I have seen data for my clients across generations, the one constant is the desire for flexible schedules whether you are 25, 35, 45 or 55. The needs for the flexibility vary, but the want is universal. I work from home when I am not traveling and at 54, I love it. All the best, BTG

    • I agree, BTG. Flexible schedules are good and appreciated at any age! 🙂 Besides, isn’t it more important WHAT gets done and how rather than when, as long as you are meeting your deadlines??? Thanks so much for reading!! Hope you’re doing great!

  5. My sense of it is that the “Gen-Yers” are demanding more flexibility in the workplace and the employers are slowly coming around. This may be a good thing, though from what I’ve read it may not be possible to satisfy these spoiled kids.

    • I think it is a good thing and I welcome that generation paving the way in this area. 🙂 I am not sure about the satisfying piece and I can certainly agree that people are looking out for themselves more, but I have to believe that some of that is because companies are not breeding loyalty very much either. I feel like every person I know who has worked in a corporate culture has seen their companies, bought and sold and downsized…it just doesn’t seem to encourage loyalty on the part of the employees. Thanks for the comment, Hugh!!! I hope you are having a great weekend!!

  6. I am in management and have been for 35 years and I have seen many changes over that time. In my opinion it is generation Y (no families yet!) that are demanding more flexibility in the workplace, and who often spring surprises at short notice; generation X would prefer to get stuck in, get the work done (and work well) and then get home; the baby-boomers (still working because their retirement funds collapsed in the GFC) are the ones filling in the gaps and are reliably plodding along, same as, same as.

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