Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Reject Sandberg's Lean In at Your Peril

There are at least two reasons why any can man dismiss Sheryl
Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead:

First, she’s the number two, the chief operating officer of Facebook,
a vastly popularsocial networking website claiming more than 1 billion users.

Second, she’s working in an industry that’s suffered few setbacks.
While she’s done a highly impressive job at Facebook, she has yet
demonstrate the turnaround skills of former Chrysler Chairman Lee
Iacocca or, if you prefer a gender equivalent, Marissa Mayer, likely
to be lauded for reversing Yahoo!’s fortunes as its chief executive officer.

There’s at least one reason why both men and women can dismiss Sandberg:

She’s never started a company. She’s almost to Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerbergwhat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could have
been to President Barack Obama had he shown the guts to chose her,
not Joe Biden, as vice president – the accomplished, seasoned woman
in the role of number two to the Man with Potential.

In fact, Sandberg almost looks like the candidate many voted against
during the 2008 Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process.
She’s a Harvard grad and holds an MBA from the same university;
was a consultant at McKinsey & Company; worked in the
U.S. Treasury Department, where she was the chief of staff to Larry
Summers, when he headed Treasury; and was one of Google’s
senior executives prior to joining Facebook five years ago.

There’s at least one reason why older women, like some
who’ve been so passionate in their rejection of Lean In,
can dismiss Sandberg:

She’s Jane Come Lately to feminism. She didn’t do the marches
in the ‘60s and the ‘70s – the fact that she wasn’t born until after
Woodstock is no excuse! – and never experienced raw
discrimination the way many of today’s older women did when
they were younger.

In other words, she’s neither suffered nor paid her dues in the
secretarial pool,as so many women did as they entered the
workforce in the 1960s and 1970s.

Finally, the biggest reason to reject Sandberg’s book is one that
anyone can relate to – she’s rich!  According to some reports,
she’s a billionaire.

Her success has made many jealous, especially two columnists at
newspapers that are polar opposites of one another, and that alone
should tell anyone that Sandberg’s book is on the right track.

But anyone who rejects her advice does so at their peril.

She’s worked hard and, like anyone else who’s successful, had
help along the way, which she mentions in her book.

So say what you will about the imperfections of Sandberg’s
advocacy, but her success wasn’t handed to her.

Besides, when it comes to advocacy, there’s rarely one who’s
perfect. Some of the biggest names in U.S. history were flawed
but decent men, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr. and
Malcolm X, to name a few. There are likely many others.

Like many top corporate officers, Sandberg holds down a demanding
job and has a family that includes two children and a spouse, her
husband David. Her life is a constant balancing act between
professional matters and family ones.

Her philosophy on managing both is one that many working
women – and men – will find valuable:

“’Done is better than perfect.’ Done, while a challenge, turns out
to be far more achievable and often a relief.”

She’s experienced sexual harassment in a way that many men might
dismiss, and seen her professional accomplishments go unappreciated
when she was searching for work.

She does an excellent job of pointing out why women feel pressured
to leave their careers after they become mothers.

In her book, Sandberg’s attempting to liberate women from their guilt
over mothering while they’re holding down fulltime jobs as well as free
men from being straight-jacketed into jobs instead of devoting
time – maybe even all of their time – into bringing up children.

While it appears she’s advancing the next phase of the feminist
cause, she’s really expanding the boundaries of what’s acceptable
in family life – for both men and women.

What some women might find upsetting about Sandberg’s book
is that instead of blaming a guy, a man or even a culture for
women’s lack of professional success, Sandberg is saying women
have only themselves – and other women! – to blame
for not achieving their goals at the office.

Professional women, she says, should look out for other women,
mentoring them wherever and whenever possible and providing
time they need to attend to their home life without suffering
consequences at the office.

But Sandberg is also an advocate for men. She acknowledges
and names the many men who’ve helped her in her career, including
former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Google Chairman Eric
Schmidt and two male colleagues, plus a senior manager, who she
worked alongside at McKinsey & Co.

This is not the anti-man book and perhaps that’s why some
women – especially New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd
and New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser – take issue with
Sandberg.  But, frankly, after reading both critiques, I wondered
if either one had done it all at the same time – been married, held
a full-time job and brought up kids.

I’m guessing neither has.

As to Peyser’s point that Sandberg doesn’t mention stepping on
a few toes to get ahead in Corporate America, if you’re reading
Sandberg’s book for that kind of advice, you’re early on in your

Read Sandberg’s book – regardless of your gender -- to learn
how you can become a better executive, maybe even a better person.


In my own career, I’ve experienced some of subjects Sandberg writes
about. The following are a few examples:

• As the stay-at-home, work-at-home dad, I’ve seen the quizzical and
suspicious looks from many, both men and women, who’ve wondered
why I’m at the house, not the office.

To answer my critics: One, I really am working, often as freelance
reporter. Two, the question – my guilt trip – is this: Who hugs the kids
after they get off the school bus?  Who shows them that a bad day
at school isn’t their worst, and their good day at school is one of their
best? I don’t know either. No after school program can do it as well as
I can. Three, who makes sure homework gets done in a timely
fashion? Four, who takes the boys to their after school activities?
Five, you’re quite right, I’m hardly earning as much as my wife does.
But I hope – just as my mom did when she stayed home back
in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – my contributions are just as valuable
as my wife’s paycheck.

• If there’s one skill many men could develop at the office, it’s
this – diplomacy. Think before you talk so you don’t acerbate your
female colleagues. Keep your inner chauvinist buried. During my
corporate days, I took many a man aside to tell them they needed to
improve their communication skills with their female colleagues.

• If there’s any one thing women could do to help themselves, it’s
to take Sandberg’s advice – be confident. None of us are perfect but the
single largest difference between men and women is this: Men think they
can while women are seeking credentials. Or as one weekend soccer
coach told me, “Little girls ask a lot of questions so they understand
what to do in every situation; little boys just kick the ball.”  Ladies –
kick the ball and don’t worry about failure.

• There’s little difference between men and women. I once had a
staff composed almost entirely of women. I learned that both
genders are equally ambitious and both genders – with the exception
of childbirth and perhaps a few other things – can do what
the other has traditionally done. I know how to sew. I know how
to cook. For the record, my wife is a better cook than I am, and
my mother and my mother-in-law were and are handier with a
sewing needle than me.

• The biggest difference between some women and between some
men is personality. Some are ambitious and want to accomplish goals.
Some are waiting for a handout. One’s gender doesn’t determine one’s
level of ambition.

• More than one woman has cried in my office, which is one of the
reasons I took my wife’s advice. I always kept a box of tissues on my
credenza. Crying is hardly a sign of weakness. And it’s certainly not a
character flaw. It’s just a person’s brain and emotions out of sync and
sometimes feeling pain. It usually doesn’t last more than a few minutes.

• Parenting is an ugly job, sometimes demanding one’s time at the most
inconvenient of moments. More employers need to know that. I still
recall the time I had my office in eye shot one morning when,
suddenly, the daycare called my cell phone, saying one of my sons
was feverish and needed to leave immediately.

• Sometimes we’re called to do something that we have no experience
doing. Don’t sweat it. Just do it.

I once had to provide trauma care to my younger brother after he
was hit by truck’s outside, rearview mirror. My lessons on trauma
care, at that point, came from the war movies I had watched and a
popular television show, “Emergency.”

I was 11 years old, my brother was seven, and we were living in
Hong Kong. On that particular day, we were doing some last-minute
Christmas shopping. I attended to my brother, making him lie down on
the sidewalk, and I placed my hands on his forehead in a vain attempt
to stop the bleeding, as a crowd gathered around us.

A very nice British man made sure an ambulance was called and
stayed with us until it arrived; and, as luck would have it, within this
crowd was a familiar face – a boy from the school I attended,
accompanied by his mother. She called home, telling mom
what happened and the hospital we were going to. She then insisted
her son join us for the ride to the hospital. Looking back it, that lady
was a saint.

 • We’re all stronger than we think. At the heart of her book, that’s
Sandberg’s message.

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