Regardless of gender or parental status, its pretty much impossible not to hugely respect and admire Sheryl Sandberg.
Her accomplishments are legion: Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, double Harvard degrees and an estimated networth of 1.6 billion. The mother of two is also deeply committed to wanting to help other women achieve like she has.
Sounds good, right? Except that's where the problem starts.
In her now-viral TED talk, "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders," she spoke in her trademark warm and engaging style about how women need to stop "leaving before they leave" and that when a woman starts thinking about having a child, she doesn't raise her hand anymore at work."
Building on this advice, Sandberg is releasing, Lean In: Women, Work & The Will To Lead which her publisher Knopf describes as a "call to action" for women everywhere to step up, "lean in" and rise up to the ranks of corporate America.
Buts that's not all. "I always thought I would run a social movement," Sandberg said in an interview for the documentary MAKERS and so, coinciding with the book, she is launching "Lean In Circles," a sort of mix between book club, an Oprah session and business school.
As with the consciousness-raising groups of the sixties, these Lean In Circles call on women to come together and follow a Sandbeg designed path to career success. The first assignment: a video on how to command more authority at work.
As I was reading about the upcoming book and the Lean In Circles concept, all I could think was Gwyneth! GOOP! And apparently, I wasn't alone in this comparison.
For the record, I'm a fan of Paltrow -- I'll admit I really liked Country Strong, think she has great style and I love the Mari Antoinette incarnate that is GOOP.
For those unfamiliar with her lifestyle newsletter, Paltrow, like Sandberg, wants to genuinely help other women, and does so with diet and life advice that run in the thousands per item (a must-have $2,300 coffeemaker for instance).
Ultimately, their stories and advice is more aspirational than inspirational -- and, I would add, actually make the struggles that real working mothers face even worse.
Sandberg's message suggests that all women need is more ambition and they can overcome very real systemic and institutional barriers (the lack and cost of childcare, for instance).
Sandberg, like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayers and of course Gwenyth Patrow are all career outliers, so incredibly successful that their stories are more intimidating than helpful or useful.
What if you don't have the Ivy league degrees? What if you are not white and married (to another equally successful partner)?
Or more to the point, is having both career and family success only possible for the 1%?
Because right now, that's what these stories suggest.
For my upcoming second book, The MomShift: Finding the Opportunity In Maternity (Random House: Jan 2014) I interviewed over 500 women from a diverse range of professional and personal backgrounds -- all of whom achieved greater career and professional success after having children.
These women aren't household names or independently wealthy. Some have elite educations but most don't, and that's why these are the stories that we need to hear more of: women that are relatable, whose experience can show and inspire accessible ways of successfully navigating children and careers.
Late last summer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former top State Department official, published an article in The Atlantic that went viral. "Why Women Can't Have It All" argued that feminism and women like Ms. Sandberg hold women to unattainable standards for professional and personal success. "Sheryl Sandberg is both superhuman and rich" Slaughter told Fortune magazine -- suggesting with that comment that her advice makes little sense for anyone who is not.
These are both of women I respect and admire, but its time we heard voices with more professional, cultural and socio-economic diversity when it comes to public discussion of working mothers. Because the issue is too important to be left to the 1%.
Reva Seth is the mother of three boys and the author of, The MomShift: Finding The Opportunity In Maternity (Random House: 2014).