Well, time to weigh in on the firestorm that seems to have hit Sheryl Sandberg and her new book, LEAN IN. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll share my thoughts on what I think has happened, and why I think it happened.
If you’re someone who hates to wait until the end of the story to find out the final ah-ha, then let me begin with the end. I think the Sandberg saga is a perfect illustration of gender discrimination alive and well. While Sheryl’s book is talking about it, we are doing it.
The outside of the book shows a beautiful woman with perfect hair and perfect teeth. The inside of the book reveals a woman with a privileged education and powerful friends. And we hate her for it.
Our natural inkling seems to be to take these two views of Sheryl that don’t fit together in our subconscious, and tear them apart. After all, the firestorm started in the media started before the book was even released. So is it about the book, or is it about Sheryl?
But isn’t that what Sheryl and many others say is the problem that needs to be addressed? Women face the pressure of hidden bias every day. We don’t naturally see women as powerful, and the likeability factor for women is negatively correlated to power. And Sheryl Sandberg is likeable.
The question remains… what can we learn about ourselves and about the plight of women, from what has happened to Sheryl? What can we learn about the existence of the hidden, but very real, gender discrimination? What can we learn as leaders about what steps need to be taken to fix this problem once and for all?
Well, we’ll explore a lot of things over the next few weeks, but I don’t believe there is a once-and-for-all fix to this problem in this millennium. Part of the reason I believe that is because there is a force so strong that lies in wait as an undertow to suck in and destroy any significant progress we may make. That force, is society.
I don’t think society is ready, willing or able to make the shift. After all, we’ve just gotten to the point where we stopped blaming the women and can talk openly about companies taking ownership for who they promote. While we have made some progress via the legal system, a country’s societal nature, just like a company’s culture, is thick and not easily changed.
Sheryl talks about wanting to live in a world where “half of our homes are run by men.” (p.172) A statement like that makes me wonder what planet she lives on. I think her beliefs are driven by the kind of life she has, which is a life that not a lot of people can relate to. I wonder how many of the women in your office believe they have a husband who would be willing to “run the home.” And not a home like Sandberg’s where there is hired help to do the heavy lifting (childcare and housecleaning).
In the war on gender equity, I believe we are at a place where we have accepted that women can and will work, and we have accepted that companies need to do a better job of rooting out hidden biases. We have made significant progress on those two fronts; the women, and the organizations.
The third and final cord of this enigma is to make progress in society’s view of women. Sheryl has started to attack it by suggesting that women should go into their careers full-throttle, and men should take the lead in the home. No doubt this view will get her some attention, both good and bad.
But this is misplaced energy in my opinion. This is not a fight that can be won by women in my generation. I wish Sheryl would direct her energy where and with whom it can make more impact. Sheryl, it’s not the women that are the problem. Please change the minds in the corporate boardrooms. There’s a new generation of senior leaders coming in who need to hear your message.