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Want to be a CEO? Forget motherhood, for now
A Facebook exec says young women are sabotaging themselves in the workplace by worrying too much (and too soon) about when they'll have children
 
Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg says women who focus on having children too early lose out in the business world.
Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg says women who focus on having children too early lose out in the business world.
Corbis

In a recent TED talk called "Why we have too few women leaders," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg alleges that young women are thinking about having kids, and how they'll balance work and family, far too early in their careers. (Watch a video of the talk.) From the moment a woman starts thinking about having a child, says Sandberg, she stops going after promotions and seeking out more responsibility at work. Women are "quietly leaning back" in the workplace, when they need to focus on moving up so that they'll have an interesting, challenging job they want when they return to work after giving birth. Is Sandberg's unconventional argument right?

Yes, in part:
"I hear what Sandberg is saying, but I don't think that advice applies to everyone," says Rachel Emma Silverman in The Wall Street Journal. I did precisely what she warns against and "gradually stepped down my career well in advance of having children." I have few regrets, though my choice did adversely affect my career and pay. "There really is no one-size-fits-all answer for a lot of these ambition/career-success/family dilemmas."
"Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: Why few women at top"


No, women are planning because they have to: It's not that "women start planning their work-family conflicts too early," says Dahlia Lithwick at Slate. They do so too late. I see some young women, even if they're single and unmarried, agonizing about their future juggling act because they "realize that it affects every decision they make." So "men and women need to start thinking about these issues well in advance of having children, and we need to stop seeing that kind of thinking and planning as fanciful or romantic."
"Sheryl Sandberg's G=great TED talk"

Corporate culture is the real issue: The flaw in Sandberg's argument, says Joanne Cleaver at BNET, is that "corporate cultures get in the way of women's progress." While she's right to warn women against getting sidetracked, many women do so, quite understandably, because there's little proof that devoting themselves to their jobs will ultimately pay off. "Well-designed women's initiatives" are needed in corporate America to make sure the rewards for working are in place.
"Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: Women workers need to keep their hands up"

But women also have to change: Sandberg's saying "don't leave before you leave" really stuck with me, says Hanna Rosin at Slate. It is "really hard" to return to work after having a baby if you haven't already established yourself in an "interesting and fulfilling" career. So women need to make those careers happen. "A lot of the change has to come from within us," and we need to encourage "girls to tap into their own confidence."
"Don't leave before you leave"

 

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