I'll admit it: Sheryl Sandberg's headline-grabbing interview on PBS earlier this week has gotten under my skin. Sandberg was profiled on a PBS/AOL program called "Makers," on her personal journey in her own words.
As COO of Facebook, she's become one of the most articulate and inspiring role models for working mothers. But in the course of this PBS interview, she said she doesn't believe work-life balance exists. Sandberg told the interviewer, "There is work and there is life, and there is no balance." But she also said she leaves work every day at 5:30 p.m. to go home to her family. These words show that Sandberg is living the working mother's dream of flexibility. She doesn't really have a balance issue, but she is a bit of a role model issue for the thousands of young women who see her as the ultimate mom with a very sexy job.
Sandberg's stature as a business leader and elegance as a speaker puts her in a high-profile vortex of the working mother's struggle to simultaneously achieve family life and work satisfaction. Sandberg's work-life balance is not easy to achieve, but she does manage it. She has proven her value to the company and can leave at 5:30 p.m., have dinner with her family and put her kids to bed. This is what all working moms crave more than anything. Year after year, survey after survey, we've seen that flexibility is the number-one thing moms want from their workplaces. What we need in Sandberg is a cheerleader and mouthpiece for the millions of young women who want to have both.
When I started out in my career and then took on more managerial responsibility with two young children, I got the best piece of advice from a colleague I admired. She was also a working mother, who had talent and ambition and who wanted to be home enough to parent and enjoy her children. She told me to make an impact, show my value and prove my worth, but to also know that I deserved, as a mom, to find a path that would work for me. And as I grew as a corporate executive, I saw that the best companies in America needed to "get" us working mothers. I came to see it was the work, not the face time, that was important. And yet flexible work arrangements still elude most moms.
As a society, we need to get past the subconscious feeling that men are better, stronger, more suited to lead than women. In our recent Working Mother Report on "Career vs. Paycheck: How Women View Their Jobs," we found that male managers have a more positive view of working mothers than they have of themselves.
Does that surprise you? Working men who manage working mothers see over and over that we focus on the work, take the stretch assignments and step up to lead. Working mothers doubt themselves, but their male managers see the proof of their success.
Last year, Sandberg gave an impassioned commencement speech to the women of Barnard, telling them to dream big dreams and have big goals. Sandberg's mantra should be to excite young women about the challenge of work-life integration. Because the biggest change needs to come from the companies, large and small. They need to give their employees leeway to have more flexibility as long as the work gets done.
When Working Mother first named the Best Companies for Working Mothers 26 years ago, there were only 30 who had the right stuff. Now there are 100 Best Companies that lead the way for change in our workplace for moms and dads. The Working Mother 100 Best Companies lead with programs in professional development, telecommuting, flextime, on-site lactation rooms and much more.
So, Sheryl Sandberg, please continue to inspire women with stories of pumping breast milk during a conference call and empowering women to follow their dreams and find the right life partner. Working women and mothers will be listening carefully. By leaving at 5:30, you have shown you've created your own path to work-life integration, and so will every mom who follows you and tries to make it work.