March 12, 2013

The Working Mom Debate Continues.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg released her first book today, offering advice for working women.

And, already, the detractors are spouting their discontent.


It’s convoluted.

Sandberg’s a successful businesswoman who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and an M.B.A. from Harvard University, both with distinction. She worked at the World Bank, in the Clinton Administration as Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of the Treasury and was a Vice President at Google. She’s now the COO of one of the most well-known, prolific companies today.

She’s well-qualified to give advice on women succeeding in the workplace.

She’s also a mother.

Before I continue with my commentary, let me put on the table that I am a stay-at-home mother; a choice that was not without difficulty, but made with a full-heart. I own it. My decision reads like Sandberg mentioned in her TED talk, I “leaned back” instead of into my career opportunities knowing that I would likely stay home with my children.

I have no regrets and my decision to back away from my job aspirations was a positive for me, for now I’m headed toward a different career path that would have never occurred had I not stepped away from my busy life and taken time to reevaluate my future.

But, some women know exactly where they want to go and they should have every opportunity to seize their dreams. They should be given insightful advice from a woman who’s been there, thick in the trenches, and who’s also had to deal with the difficult decisions that come with career and family.

Her detractors say she’s been successful in her career because of the powerful men who have helped her along the way. They claim her wealth and privilege detach her from the average woman and shields her from the challenges most women face in the workplace. To quote Melissa Gira Grant from the Washington Post, “This is simply the elite leading the slightly-less-elite, for the sake of Sandberg’s bottom line.”

I disagree.

I’m here to say I’m an average woman living in a middle-class neighborhood, raising my kids, supporting my husband and struggling to make ends meet…and Sheryl Sandberg has it right.

While I have yet to read her book, her TED talk, from which the book is based, hits some very real points:

>> “In the corporate sector, C-level jobs and board seats, women at the top…tops out at 15% to 16%.”

>> “Women systematically underestimate their own activities.” Women need to “believe we got that A.”

>> “Success and like-ability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women.”

>> “No one gets to the corner office by sitting at the side and not at the table…We’ve got to get women to sit at the table.”

>> “The data shows…if a woman and a man work full-time and have a child, the women does twice the amount of housework the man does and the women does three times the amount of child care the man does.” (In reference to why many women drop out of the workforce when facing work and child care issues).

We’ve all heard the working mom versus stay-at-home mom debate for decades. It’s a back and forth conversation that never seems to reach a resolution. It gets bantered around constantly to no avail. For whatever reason, it’s a polarizing topic that can’t seem to find common ground in the middle.

As a stay-at-home mom who often feels like a lone wolf in my community, I say to each woman her own.

I chose to stay home with my kids, but I will not presume to judge women who chose to work and parent. As Sandberg mentions in her talk, we mothers all feel guilty sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you stay home or work, all mothers feel that guilt of not being enough for our kids. That’s common ground.

What is solved by making either side feel less adequate for their choices?

I find it interesting that powerful corporate moguls like Jack Welch, Michael Eisner and Bill Gates can write books about how to get ahead in business yet no one criticizes them for their choices as a father. Furthermore, no one laments their business advice as being unthoughtful for the common man.

However, Ms. Grant suggests in her piece that Sandberg’s promotion of ‘Lean In Circles’ would, “be isolated to actions individual women can take to support their own ambitions and desires, rather than wondering about the ambitions and desires of, say, the women who keep house for the women spending their time ‘leaning in.'”

So now women not only have to consider their own ambitions but the ambitions of other women as well?

This feeds right into Sandberg’s comment that “men attribute their success to themselves, women attribute their success to external factors” (ie., someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard.) Here’s a woman, Ms. Grant, telling other women that they can’t just do things for themselves, they have to think of everyone else too.

That’s exactly Sandberg’s point: women don’t value their own self-worth.

We often sit back and let everyone else have a seat at the table—often at our own expense.

I get deeply bothered when people feel obliged to pick on women who have made it to the top of the corporate ladder. Sheryl Sandberg earned her seat at that table. She studied hard. She worked hard. Yes, she had some help along the way, but so did every man sitting at that table with her. She had to prove herself successful at her work, otherwise she would not be where she is today.

She earned it.

And if that’s not enough, Condoleezza Rice, Mark Zuckerburg, Alicia Keys, Sir Richard Branson and Chelsea Clinton all wrote positive, advance reviews of Sandberg’s book.

I’d say she’s got some clout.




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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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