Before I started my summer internship, my employer sent Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” to all the female interns. I had wanted to read that book since it came out, so I was very excited to get a copy in the mail. I remember staying up until 3AM reading the book in one go. A lot has been said and written and discussed about Lean In, and the book has received it’s share of praise and criticism. One of my favorite bloggers, Emily, has her thoughts about the book on a June blog post.
Lean In’s messages really resonated with me. There were 3 big takeaways from the book for me: 1. Don’t leave before you leave, 2. Men and women can get very different messages during the road to their goals, 3. Equal partnership at home is critical and necessary.
1. Don’t leave before you leave
This is the biggest message I’ve gotten from the book – that all of our choices are made with alternatives in mind. If you have a great job where you have autonomy, fair compensation, opportunity to learn and develop, and a supportive company, that’s a much more appealing alternative than a soul-sucking job in an abusive environment where you are under-compensated. You might still decide to leave (and that’s perfectly OK), but you owe it to yourself to create the best possible options.
For most people, it takes time to get to a job of responsibility and power where you have more discretion over how you manage your time, or make enough money to hire help, or even be at a high enough level that you can go part-time or take time off before you come back to your career at the same level. If women (or men!) count themselves out of the game before they have to make that decision, then their decision would be very different than if they had pushed hard until they had to decide.
2. Men and women tend to get very different messages as they pursue their careers
There’s a passage in Lean In there that describes career/life achievements as a marathon. Two runners stand at the starting line, both are equally motivated, equally trained, equally capable. They start running. The road gets harder, the runners become tired. The spectators on the side of the road start cheering different cheers to the two runners. One runner is encouraged: “You can do it!, it’s going to be worth it! you are so strong, you’ve come this far, don’t give up!” and the other runner is subtly discouraged from the race: “This race is really hard! Are you sure you want to do this? It’s great how far you’ve already come, you don’t have to finish if you don’t want to.”
Now maybe one runner really do want to quit that race and run another race, or take a break and then rejoin the race. And maybe one runner really does want to continue. Sandberg, in my opinion, doesn’t say that quitting the race is bad or that doing a different race is bad. She is saying that the message that these two runners get SHOULD NOT be based on their gender. And to that I agree 100%.
**Also, I’ve read criticism that Sandberg’s book is unfair to stay at home parents – that’s not how I took it. Sandberg’s mother was a SAHM and you could tell she has tremendous respect for her. In fact, Sandberg wrote that it needs to be MORE acceptable for men to stay at home if that’s best for their family, and for women to pursue the big careers.**
3. Equal partnership at home is critical and necessary
I know I want – no, I need – an equal partner at home. The phenomenon of the “second shift” has been well-documented. For social or personal reasons, many women who work full-time outside the home also takes the bulk of the work inside the home: cooking, cleaning, organizing, managing, scheduling, etc., etc. My mother did this. I have not and will not. Fortunately, CB understands my insistence on this point because he loves me and want me to be happy, and the equality between partners in a marriage is a big determinant of my satisfaction with my marriage.
Lean In has a very good section on why and how women should insist on an equal partner, and that’s the section that has been often overlooked in media discussions, but which I think is one of the most important takeaways from the book. Insist on your partner being an equal partner. It’s important and it’s fair.