Workplace equality: Should women ‘lean in’?

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg offers advice on how women can bring true gender equality to the workplace.

Working women today are trapped in “an either/or world,” said Gayle Lemmon in We’re still made to feel as if we must ultimately choose between having a family and pursuing an ambitious career. But Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, says the next wave of feminism must reject this choice. In a controversial new book, Lean In, Sandberg argues that if women want to shatter the glass ceiling, and bring true gender equality to the workplace, they must “lean in” to their careers and “bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.” In practice, this means that women must be more assertive, both at work and at home, demanding that husbands share more of the child care and housework, and that bosses give them raises and promotions and the freedom to go home to their families. “Choices and trade-offs surely exist,” Sandberg acknowledges. But women can have ambitious, satisfying careers and families—if only they insist on it.

Easy for her to say, said Melissa Gira Grant in Sandberg hopes Lean In will inspire a full-blown social movement, but she’s a top executive with “a staff to help keep house, raise her children,” and give her the time and freedom to hold “women’s leadership dinners.” What relevance does her privileged life have “for the majority of women”? Unlike the billionaire, Harvard-educated Sandberg, said Jessica Grose in, most working mothers simply don’t have the clout to demand that their companies institute “pregnant-only” parking spaces, or the right to leave work at 5:30 p.m. to have dinner with their kids. Once we have kids, we’re lucky to hold on to our jobs.

The “Sheryl Sandberg backlash” has already begun, said Nisha Chittal in But Sandberg doesn’t claim to be speaking for “all women everywhere.” She’s encouraging the small number of women who have the ability to make it to the top to go for it, so they can then make the system fairer for women in general. In the process, though, said Avivah Wittenberg-Cox in, she effectively “blames other women for not trying hard enough.” Now, thanks to Sandberg, “every resistant man on the planet” can tell women employees that they’d get paid more and promoted to better jobs—if only they “leaned in,” and became “more ambitious, more assertive, more…male.” With allies like this, who needs enemies?

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