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I admit I haven't read Lean In yet, but I did particularly enjoy these articles and found them much more sympathetic Anne Marie Slaughter on why 'having it all' is a myth and we need to stop beating ourselves up: V interestingly, another response to the Sandberg book identifies freelancing as the ideal model for women to balance work with family, almost like she's on to something there ;)
I've not yet read Lean-In, but I have to admit that the extracts of the book & interviews with Sandberg have really rankled me. She seems to be arguing that women are 'leaving the table' by not going for more senior roles even before they've started having kids, and that as soon as they start having a family they count themselves out of trying to progress into senior management roles (ie regardless of whether you believe there's an institutional glass ceiling, women are not putting themselves forward enough to put them in the ranks for consideration). All of which is undoubtedly true. But here's the thing. The system is set up that to be in a senior management role involves making work the absolute priority in your life. There is no work/life balance because work permeates your life. Sandberg may be in the lucky enough position to be able to leave work at 5.30 to see her kids, but she admits herself that she's always on, that she's working at home in the evening, and there's no doubt she's away from home a lot travelling with the kind of travel and commitments a job like hers entails. I was in a middle management role, director level within an advertising agency, and on the track along the corporate ladder where I was aiming for senior management. To be successful you had to make work the priority above your own personal life - that's the way it works. If you left on time, you simply weren't around to be able to work with your team to make sure shit got done, because the way the industry works there's lots of 'crunch' periods involving late nights and weekends in the office, and invariably a certain amount of travel. There were a mixture of men and women in senior roles everywhere I've worked - in fact at once agency I worked at, the board was mostly women. But everyone in a senior role fell in to one of the following positions: - no kids, so no issues about not being able to stay with everyone else to work on the pitch or oversee the delivery of the big piece of work, or travel to the important client meeting overseas because of having to pick the kids up from nursery or attend a parents evening - had kids, but had a partner who was the primary caregiver. This was almost exclusively men, though not always - they missed out on seeing their kids or attending their kids' plays, because they had to be in work, and their partners ensured that the parent role was at least partly covered. - had kids and had a partner who was in an equally high powered role, and basically delegated the raising of their children to the nanny. My MD was like this - her husband was in an equally alpha role, and there were frequently times when he'd have a big deal and she'd have a big pitch or presentation and neither could leave the office. Fact is, all of these options aren't conducive to a work/life balance, and certainly not to raising a family. Now, it's also partly true that the more women there are in senior management roles, the more workplaces are going to be better able to adapt to trying to help employees with flexible working etc. But even with cultural change, how do you get around the fact that being in a senior management role demands a level fo commitment that is in many ways incompatible to a family life? If you have to fly around the world for global board meetings, you're going to be away from your kids. If you have to entertain clients several nights a week, you're going to miss bedtime. This is true for both men and women. I made the decision that I was fed up of 15h days and spending too many weekends in work, and always having to cancel plans with friends because I was stuck in the office, and never seeing my partner. I don't have kids yet, but being in a senior role wasn't working for me in terms of being happy and healthy (going to the gym? forget it! eating properly? forget it!) - how was it going to work if and when I had a family? I deliberately leaned out, and stepped off the corporate ladder to go freelance. OK, yes you could say I'm the CEO of my own company, but it's a one woman band - I work freelance and go into companies to work on a project basis, and I have flexibility about how much I commit to. I don't want a senior management role in a small, medium or large company. I want to be able to go in, do some good work, lead a project but not have to run an organisation, deal with the politics or issues that come with managing teams and leading a business. I want to be able to have a work/life balance. I love my work, it's incredibly important to me, but I don't want it to be the sole focus of my life. Yes, I chose to lean out, but frankly I don't want to lean in if it means taking on the relentless treadmill that comes from being in a senior management role. You only get one life, and I want the time I spend at work to be about doing and making great stuff, but also being able to leave it at a reasonable time and have a life outside work.
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Jan 22, 2010