The Beginning of a Conversation

sheryl-sandberg-book-coverI’ve been reading much of the discussion about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which details her ideas about how modern women hold themselves back in their careers. Her point of view has been considered “controversial” by some, but I find her concepts fascinating for both men and women to consider when trying to stay current and active in the work force.

“Lean In” is based on three core concepts for women: 1. Sit at the table; be present and take action whenever you can. 2. Make your partner a real partner; equal earning and equal responsibilities make for a better balance. 3. Don’t leave before you leave; “Actions women are taking with the objective of staying in the work force actually lead to them leaving.”

I didn’t understand the term “Lean In” until I heard the last part of Sandberg’s TED talk, “Why we have too few women leaders”, which focuses on women holding themselves back. We do this by simply planning our futures from the time we get engaged or even from the time we start thinking that we can’t do all the things we want. I am completely guilty of this.

Let me set the scene for you. I’m graduating college, getting married, turning 30 and thinking about when the right time is to have children, get a dog and buy a house. In her TED talk, Sandberg said something that really resonated with me. She said, “Women start leaning back the second they start thinking about how they will incorporate new additions to their lives.”

Wow. Talk about “leaning back” and taking my foot off the gas pedal. With graduation, wedding planning and a steady job, I’ve become comfortable with my position at work, as is. I’m comfortable focusing most of my energy on my life outside of work, but this doesn’t represent who I really am. Comfortable is good to an extent but really, I’m eager. I am now, and have always been a sponge, seeking information and growth and making a difference in the workplace!

I was raised in a divorced home with a Mom who had to sacrifice her time with us to provide a comfortable living style. She is self-employed and super motivated. Sandberg mentions how women feel guilt about leaving their children and my response to them is “The children will be ok!” I value the work ethic and drive that was instilled in me because my parents were such hard workers. My mother often had to miss daytime school events that conflicted with her schedule, and I did miss her. But what I got instead was the message that working hard at something you love and are good at will benefit your whole family. I’m proud of her and recognize her sacrifices and hard work as gifts to my brother and me.

For most modern families, work is not a choice, and both parents need to keep steady jobs to support the family. If you add pregnancy and motherhood to a full-time job, an identity crisis may ensue. Though our society has accepted women in the work place, we still have a long way to go in accepting and celebrating mothers in the workplace. Sandberg herself had to fight for a parking spot close to her office while pregnant. This is a victory, to be sure, but only a small one and maybe more of a band-aid than any kind of a solution. Sandberg suggests that it’s women who need to adjust to the go-getting attitude of our male-counterparts, that we should lean-in to work, unafraid and guilt-free. I am not a mother yet, but I look forward to the day when “leaning in” is more of a two-person dance between the workforce and working mothers. I celebrate all women who wear two (or twenty hats) and I believe this is only the beginning of the conversation. -Amanda Shone