While promoting my book I Love Mondays this year, a few reporters asked why I didn't say more about men helping on the home front. Why do women always have to change our behavior, they asked? One told me that I was letting husbands off the hook. Wait, what? I created a book of pragmatic strategies for working mothers that they can use right away without depending on anyone's permission or participation. Of course I believe spouses (if they are in the picture) should divvy up the grunt work, and this looks different for each couple depending on salary, schedules, and personalities. How exactly they go about this often complicated process is not the point of my book.
So it has been interesting to follow the attacks over the last week on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is launching a "Lean In" movement that teaches women practical ways to climb the career ladder. From what I have read, the movement is based on her book of the same title, which comes out this March, and gives women advice on how to exude self-confidence and "lean into" work opportunities rather than pulling away. Immediately the backlash started--most vocal right now is Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter--insisting that Sandberg is a) too rich to be relatable to most women and b) that Sandberg's messages let companies off the hook for providing much needed family policies like flex time and family leave. According to Slaughter, Sandberg is "blaming the victim" by making women feel accountable for not getting ahead.
Let's not lump together Mayer and Sandberg just because they're both making news on work-life balance. One is contributing a potential solution to open doors for women, while the other has put into effect a policy that slams a door shut.
I understand Slaughter's point. After all, the U.S. is in dead LAST compared to other countries of similar economic development when it comes to work-family policies. We desperately need better policies. And Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! is not helping matters. This week we heard about Mayer's ban on telecommuting, which will deeply impact working mothers who need that flex time so they can continue to produce quality work while taking care of their children. If Mayer is using this ban to weed out telecommuting workers who are not productive, punishing everyone is not the way to do this. It is dreadful to me that the ban came from a smart, driven mom in the tech industry, who could have used her power for good.
So when I see the headlines today starting with "Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer," it infuriates me to see their names together. Whereas Mayer is taking a potential solution (telecommuting) off of the table, Sandberg is adding one. I haven't read Sandberg's book so I can't vouch for it, but it's hard to argue against teaching women practical skills that help us get ahead in the work world. We should also fight for more family-friendly policies in the workforce. I have no idea why these two goals are thought to be incompatible! And might I throw in that being rich hardly excludes one from being a role model that women can connect with (Um, Oprah). Plus, wouldn't we women want to hear from someone who has made it to the top? Who better than her to potentially advise the rest of us on getting our needs met at work?
So let's not lump together Mayer and Sandberg just because they're both making news on work-life balance. One is contributing a potential solution to open doors for women while the other has put into effect a policy that slams a door shut.
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
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