Should Women "Lean In" to Their Careers (and Lean Out of the Household)?

March 21,2013
Erin Dower( )

Have you read about The Great and Powerful... Sheryl Sandberg? She's the Facebook exec who just released a book called Lean In, which aims to start a movement to help women advance their careers and reach the top tier in their business. She's a 43-year-old billionaire mother of two – just like me and you. Ha.

I haven’t read her book, but I've read the articles about her in Time, The New York Times "Motherlode" column, and Cosmo, and I think I get her point: Don't hold back. You can be me. If you want to be. (Which you should.)

And that’s the hang-up: Women – in the past, present, and (probably) future – want different things. Instead of inspiring a meaningful discussion, Lean In has stirred the Mommy Wars pot. Sure, it's great to learn how to show assertiveness in the office and seek out supportive female peers and mentors in the professional world. But we can’t join together in a (ra ra ra!) united front to “raise each other up” in the corporate world if it’s not our (collective) top priority. I don't want to work 70+ hours a week and rock a business suit every day. (And, no, I don't want my husband to either.) There, I said it. Do we really need a wizard behind the curtain pushing a career-woman agenda when we're pushed and pulled in enough directions?

Sandberg urges young women to hustle in the years out of college to reach higher rungs on the corporate ladder so that, if and when you start a family, you're in a better place to keep on climbing up, up,  up when you return to work. And the more women at the top, the more family-friendly companies will become, right? (Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer debunked that theory with her new ban on employees working from home.)

A big part of the problem is that we're only a generation or so removed from the era of stay-at-home motherhood, and we have a lot to figure out. Some of us grew up with mothers who worked outside the home and tried to do it all and have it all (mostly with mixed success and higher blood pressure). Others grew up with stay-at-home moms who masterfully held down the fort but sometimes felt cooped-up without a career. Women today have taken on greater roles in the professional world, but they’re still shouldering much of the work at home. Even in a pretty equal relationship and with a helpful hubby like mine, I care more about a clean house and healthy home-cooked meals and some things that my mother, and her mother before her, cared about and tended to in the home. I think it's both a nature and a nurture thing.

Sandberg advises finding the right partner/spouse who is willing to share the load at home (and, she doesn't say this, but I think it's implied: having a nanny or three couldn't hurt). But nobody cares like a mom cares. It's as simple as that. It's the caring and the career that are at odds for women. We're leaning in to soothe our crying toddlers and scrub our yucky bathtubs, and maybe we're just too exhausted to collectively lean in to our careers.

What do you think?