In a few short weeks, women all across America will get to hear one of the top businesswomen of our era, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, tell us why we haven't reached our professional potential.
Sandberg, who has been quoted in the PBS documentary MAKERS, as saying, "I always thought I would run a social movement," plans to release her book, Lean In, in early March. Along with the launch, she hopes women will come together in local consciousness-raising groups called "Lean In Circles." These groups, following a stringent set of rules such as not being able to miss more than two meetings a year, will help women develop skills and a success-oriented mindset so we can take on the world. Sheryl Sandberg: Our very own Tiger Career Counselor.
I'm not exactly eager to hear Sandberg -- who comes from a privileged background, holds double Harvard degrees and has a ton of help in her 9,000-square-foot home -- say that women don't lean in to professional opportunities the way we should. Perhaps it's because I've seen far too many women fight to get back into the workforce after having kids. Far too many women whose careers haven't rebounded after the market crashed in 2008. And far too many women who have done everything right and still can't find a job that matches their skills, education and experience.
Does Sandberg even know what the average woman has to do in order to keep a professional toe in the door? If she did, she'd know that most of my mom peers are searching for three things in the first few years after starting a family: a decent job, decent childcare/schools and at least five decent minutes to ourselves in the bathroom. Before she tries to fix women, most of whom are busting our butts off already, I'd love for her fix the on-ramp back to corporate and non-corporate America. Because as many women over 30 with somewhat average-sized bank accounts already know, it's broken.
Allow me to give you an example of why I think Sandberg's approach and perspective might be slightly off. Her book party is at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mansion. In 2008, more than 50 women from Bloomberg, L.P. joined a class action lawsuit against the company, claiming that they had experienced demotions or pay cuts after getting pregnant and taking maternity leave. In 2011 the company, which is no longer run by Mike (though he's still a major shareholder), beat the lawsuit.
Do you want to know what the Judge Loretta A. Preska said in her ruling? "The law does not mandate 'work-life balance,'" she states. "In a company like Bloomberg, which explicitly makes all-out dedication its expectation, making a decision that preferences family over work comes with consequences." Basically, what Preska says is that if you work at Bloomberg, you need to put up and shut up. Wow. Remind me to never invite Judge Preska to my Lean In Circle.
If I had to guess, I'd say it's highly unlikely that Sandberg, a mom who gets to go home at 5:30 p.m. every day to be with her kids, would say to her bosses if she worked at Bloomberg, "I'm leaving now but I'll lean in tomorrow at about 9:00 a.m., after I drop my kids off at daycare, where they'll be for the next 11 hours."
It's also highly unlikely that Sandberg, when she's hanging at Mike Bloomberg's house for her book shindig in a few weeks, will tell him, "I thought it was incredibly inappropriate for you to comment on a woman's ass," which writer Jonathan Van Meter claims Bloomberg allegedly did at a holiday party (Bloomberg denies he said this, but New York Magazine is sticking by its reporter). Why isn't Sandberg taking on Bloomberg and companies like Bloomberg, L.P.?
Obviously, women need to take both personal and collective responsibility for the status of women in the workforce. But instead of telling us what we should be doing better, how about encouraging society to do better? I'd like to see Sandberg use her clout to nudge business leaders towards improving the status of women professionals within their organizations. I'd love to hear about Sandberg creating accountability groups in Silicon Valley and beyond. In the technology and business communities, and beyond.
Sandberg's got muscle. She should use it to challenge corporations to evolve and reflect the communities in which they exist, rather than lecture women that we need to work harder. In high school, she was named Most Likely to Succeed. In high school, I was trying to survive my mother's abusive boyfriends. Women do need Sandberg. But we need her as our #1 advocate, not our #1 critic.
From what I understand -- and maybe, hopefully I'm wrong -- her book and her so-called movement trumpet the World According to Sheryl Sandberg, not the World According to Reality. And until her reality and mine overlap a little bit more, I'd prefer to spend my time doing something other than learn how to further support a hegemonic corporate culture that was built by white men as they stood on the shoulders of women and other under-represented groups. Plus, as any working mom could tell you, Sandberg has already got it wrong: There is no way to miss only two Lean in Circles a year. Unless you're Marissa Mayer, of course.