Friday, May 20, 2011

Leaning In: A Message from the COO of Facebook

If you have not yet had the opportunity to do so, I recommend reading the transcript from Sheryl Sandberg's commencement speech at Barnard College this week. During her address, Sheryl voiced her hope for the upcoming generation of female graduates to further the cause of women. She states that as far as women have come since our mothers' generation, we still see the inequality that women deal with, especially in the workplace. Although women make up at least 50% of college graduates, we are still in the minority when it comes to holding leadership positions within corporate America. No big surprises there; this is something that we have all realized by now. Sheryl encourages women to "lean in" - to think big about our careers and our contributions, to have confidence in our abilities.

But what I really identified with is this statement:

"Of course not everyone wants to jump into the workforce and rise to the top. Life is going to bring many twists and turns, and each of us, each of you, have to forge your own path. I have deep respect for my friends who make different choices than I do, who choose the really hard job of raising children full time, who choose to go part time, or who choose to pursue more nontraditional goals. These are choices that you may make some day, and these are fine choices.

But until that day, do everything you can to make sure that when that day comes, you even have a choice to make. Because what I have seen most clearly in my 20 years in the workforce is this: Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually."

This is very insightful and so true. As women in the workforce who are mothers or mothers-to-be, it tends to be a slow process - this "leaning out." I am always struck by the fact that men who are fathers don't generally make these kinds of choices; they are mainly "leaning in," doing whatever they can to further their careers. And I say this with all respect, especially being married to a devoted, engaged father who spends as many non-working moments with his family as possible. But there truly is a difference. As women, it seems like we are conditioned to think about the future of our families - how our demanding careers may take their toll on our children, on our work-life balance. And some of us make adjustments based upon this conditioning - the less demanding job, part-time hours, working closer to home. Men don't seem to think this way which really proves that as far as we have come, the concept of women owning the job of "family" is still pervasive in our society.

Will it ever change? I think back to my childhood and then think about most of the families I know these days. Things have definitely progressed; I know Dads who have playdates with other Dads, many men who understand that they have to share the burden of days off from work to care for sick children and many Dads who attend their kids' school performances along with their wives. This is a big improvement from the families of the 1970's. So maybe there is hope; wouldn't it be great if we could all "lean in"? That would also mean that corporate America needs to catch on that we're not living in the 1970's anymore...but that's a whole other post.