Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In digested chapter by chapter by Jessica Chivers – Chapter 8, 9, 10 & 11

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Jessica Chivers is the author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work (Hay House, £10.99). She is the founder of The Talent Keeper Specialists, an organisation helping employers hang on to and support their female talent during career transitions. See www.talentkeepers.co.uk and follow @TalentKeepersUK on Twitter.

This article is also available as nine short podcasts (totalling 38:28) on soundcloud.

Chapter 8 – Make Your Partner a Real Partner

In which Lean In and my book, Mothers Work! overlap greatly, specifically chapter three ‘See your family as a team.’ Sheryl and I have a shared outlook on equality in the home, both believing it is a mindset more than anything else. I write ‘…partnering up, like equality, is an attitude more than anything else. Equality is when you both recognise the need and see the merit in deciding together how you can best manage the totality of your lives. Equality isn’t about dividing everything down the middle.’ Sheryl writes on her marriage to Dave “We are never at fifty-fifty at any given moment – perfect equality is hard to define or sustain – but we allow the pendulum to swing back and forth between.” We learn 18% of women in the UK earn more than their husbands (trailing behind the US by 12%) – which Sheryl explains can be a problem as there’s still significant discomfort for many around this – and that Sheryl herself has experienced the ‘double-bind’ of working motherhood despite having such a fantastic husband.

Note-worthy points:

  • The single most important career decision: “I truly believe that the single biggest career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully – and I mean fully – supportive of her career. No exceptions. In a 2007 study of well-educated professional women who had left the paid workforce, 60% cited their husbands as a critical factor in their decision.”
  • Fathers please lean in to your family: “Women who breast feed are arguably baby’s first lunch-box. But even if mothers are more naturally inclined towards nurturing, fathers can match that with knowledge and effort. If women want to succeed more at work and if men want to succeed more at home, these expectations have to be challenged. As Gloria Steinem once observed, ‘it’s not about biology, but about conscientiousness.’”
  • Let men do it their way: Another point on which our books cross-over, “Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal – and equally capable – partner. And if that’s not reason enough, bear in mind that a study found that wives who engage in gate-keeping behaviours do five more hours of family work per week than wives who take a more collaborative approach.”
  • Benefits when men ‘lean in’: “…children with involved and loving fathers have higher levels of psychological well-being and better cognitive abilities. When fathers provide even just routine childcare, children have higher levels of educational and economic achievement and lower delinquency rates. Their children even tend to be more empathetic and socially competent. When husbands do more housework, wives are less depressed, marital conflicts decrease and satisfaction rises….the risk of divorce reduces by half when a woman earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.” All of these assertions are carefully referenced and the last point on divorce risk comes from a 2006 study of US and German couples.

Chapter 9 – The Myth of Doing It All

With lines such as ‘no one has it all, ‘done is better than perfect’ (on a poster hanging at Facebook HQ) and ‘perfection is the enemy’ Sheryl and I are back in the same space. This chapter pedals the same message as the chapter ‘Go for good enough at home’ in Mothers Work! As I read a thought bubbles up – I hope there isn’t value in authors still writing this stuff when my daughter becomes a mother.

Sheryl shares her evolution as a parent and how she didn’t get things right with baby number one (checking e-mails constantly, exhausting herself by working when he newborn was sleeping etc), but learned to relax and set boundaries with her second child. I nod away emphatically as she puts the ball firmly in women’s courts with “the best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.” This chimes with one of the key messages I’ve conveyed in many a talk on how to unravel the grip of the triple-bind of working motherhood: we must take charge because no one will do it for us. I do wince though at the ‘life’ and ‘career’ dichotomy – this implies the two are separate, which they are not. A good, rounded life involves both.

I’m dismayed that Sheryl almost applauds another executive for putting her children to bed in their clothes to save 15 minutes in the morning. Behaviour like that should ring alarm bells for a family and be a trigger for re-evaluating priorities.

Noteworthy points:

  • Colin Powell, output not input at work is important: “I wanted them to have a life outside the office. I am paying them for the quality of their work, not for the hours they work. That kind of environment has always produced the best results for me.” This makes complete sense yet most organisations do not work to these principles. A ‘bums on seats’ culture flies in the face of research of by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow who found Boston Consulting Group consultants forced to work less became more effective (see note 14, p 212)
  • The ‘always on’ culture: “A 2012 survey of employed adults showed that 80% of respondents continued to work after leaving the office, 38% checked e-mail at the dinner table and 69% can’t go to bed without checking their inbox.” And later “Sleeping four or five hours a night induced mental impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level above the legal driving limit.” Whilst I only became aware of this fact whilst reading Lean In I’ve often thought the ‘baby on board’ signs people display in their cars are a useful warning for other drivers to stay clear of what could be a dangerous, sleep-deprived parent at the wheel. My view on overcoming the ‘always on’ culture is to make a point of regularly unplugging. Constant communication has become a fact of life and because there is never a state of ‘finished’ or ‘job done’ when you are combining career with family you may as well draw your own markers in the sand. I now hold myself back from checking my iphone before I go to bed asking myself ‘what are you going to do if there’s something ‘urgent’ in there? Attend to it now, right before bed when you want to achieve restful sleep?”
  • We’re doing more parenting than we ever did: Sheryl and I draw on the same reference in making the point about parents doing more parenting than we did in 1975. It is all the evidence we need not to feel guilty about combining careers with a young family. “In 1975 stay-at-home mothers spent an average of about 11 hours per week on primary child care (defined as routine care-giving and activities that foster a child’s well-being, such as reading and fully focused play). Mothers employed outside the home in 1975 spent six hours doing these activities. Today stay-at-home mothers spend about 17 hours per week on primary child care, on average, while mothers who work outside the home spend about eleven hours. This means an employed mother today spends about the same amount of time on primary child care activities as a non-employed mother did in 1975.”

Chapter 10 – Let’s Start Talking About It

In which we learn Sheryl was rightly incensed as a teenager when patted on the head by ‘legendary’ Tip O’Neill (Lib Dem speaker of US House of Representatives) and told over her head ‘she’s pretty.’ Although oddly, in the following years, she denounced feminism, believing it wasn’t something she wanted to be associated with and that it was redundant. The end of the chapter makes clear ‘feminism’ as a concept needs to be properly understood as only 25% of US women consider themselves a feminist, yet when offered the definition ‘a feminist is someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes’ it rises to 65%. I wonder if the other 35% need their ears syringing.  We learn how and when Sheryl decided to start talking about gender equality: seeing large numbers of female friends leave the workforce and having the support of colleagues Susan Wojcicki and Melissa Mayer at Google.

I’ve scrawled a lot in the margins of this chapter, picking out counter-intuitive ideas on meritocracies and anti-discrimination laws. As well as those there are some positive points of change in some well-known organisations:

  • Increasing female promotions at Google: “Goole has an unusual system where engineers nominate themselves for promotions and the company found that men nominated themselves more quickly than women. The Google management team shared this data openly with the female employees, and women’s self-nomination rates rose significantly, reaching roughly the same rate as men’s.”
  • American Express CEO pauses meetings to point out discrimination: “Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, openly acknowledges that in meetings, both men and women are more likely to interrupt a woman and give credit to a man for an idea first proposed by a woman. When he witnesses either of these behaviors, he stops the meeting to point it out. Coming from the top, this really makes employees think twice. A more junior woman (or man) can also intervene in the situation when a female colleague has been interrupted. She can gently but firmly tell the group, ‘Before we move on, I’d like to hear what (senior woman) had to say.’ This action not only benefits the senior woman but can raise the stature of the junior woman as well, since speaking up for someone else displays both confidence and a communal spirit. The junior woman comes across as both competent and nice.”
  • Eradicating the male-female performance gap at Harvard Business School: “Even a well-established institution like Harvard Business School can evolve rapidly when issues are addressed head-on. Historically at HBS American students have academically outperformed both female and international students. When Nitin Nohria was appointed dean in 2010, he made it his mission to close this gap. He began by appointing Youngme Moon as senior associate dean of the MBA program, the first woman to hold that position…he also created a new position for Robin Ely, an expert on gender and diversity. They visited each classroom and discussed the challenges women and international students faced. Without calling for major overhauls they tackled the soft stuff – small adjustments students could make immediately. They held students responsible for the impact their behaviour had on others. (They) introduced small group projects to encourage collaboration between classmates who would not naturally work together. They also added a year-long field course, which plays to the strengths of students who are less comfortable contributing in front of large classes. By commencement, the performance gap had virtually disappeared. In a result many considered surprising, overall student satisfaction went up, not just for the female and international students, but for American males as well. By creating a more equal environment, everyone was happier. And all of this was accomplished in just two years.”

Chapter 11 – Working Together Toward Equality

In which Sheryl encourages us all to be supportive of people’s choices, most notably her friend and newly appointed Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer’s decision to take a very short maternity leave. She touches on getting over the mommy wars; that is, ending competitions to prove that staying at home or going out to work when our children are young is the best or right thing to do. This is a message I open with in Mothers Work! Still on the theme of choice, Sheryl makes clear that both men and women need to be able to choose to stay at home or have full careers, she writes “Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have a real choice.” The key word in that sentence is ‘colleagues’ which could have been prefaced with ‘male’ because if women are working alongside men who don’t do domestic stuff and whose wives stay at home, the evidence suggests they can have a negative impact on their female colleagues’ careers. See note 10 p217 for more on this. She goes on to say “And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have a real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible.”

Lean In is a remarkable piece of work which clearly sets out the many ways employers and employees can contribute to righting the imbalance of ease and opportunity for women in the workplace. As an emotionally-charged scientist I’ve relished the rigorous research and heavy academic referencing interwoven with Sheryl’s personal stories and feelings. I thoroughly recommend reading the whole book – indeed I implore you to read it if you’re an EDI practitioner or people manager – and I leave you with a selection of sound-bites from the final chapter:

  • “Sharon Meers tells a story about a school parents’ night she attended in which children introduced their parents. Sharon’s daughter Sammy pointed at her father and said ‘this is Steve, he makes buildings. Kind of like an arhitecht, and he loves to sing.’ Then Sammy pointed at Sharon and said, ‘this is Sharon, she wrote a book, she works full-time and she never picks me up from school.’ If more children see fathers at school pickups and mothers who are busy at jobs, both girls and boys will envision more options for themselves. Expectations will not be set by gender but by personal passion, talents and interests.”
  • “It is a painful truth that one of the obstacles to more women gaining power has sometimes been women already in power.”
  • “Research suggests that once a woman achieves success, particularly in a gender-biased context, her capacity to see gender discrimination is reduced.”
  • “There is hope that this is attitude is changing. A recent survey found that ‘high-potential women’ working in business want to ‘pay it forward’ and 73% have reached out to other women to help them develop their talents. Almost all of the women I have encountered professional have gone out of their way to be helpful.”
  • “The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results. In 2004, four female executives at Merrill Lynch started having lunch together once a month. They shared their accomplishments and frustrations. They brainstormed about business. After the lunches they would go back to their offices and tout one another’s achievements. They couldn’t brag about themselves, but they could easily do it for their colleagues. Their careers flourished and each rose up the ranks to reach managing director and executive officer levels. The queen been was banished and the hive became stronger.”

And that’s what I call a result. Thank you Sheryl Sandberg, for giving us Lean In.

JessicaChivers

For more on Jessica’s work with The Talent Keeper Specialists see www.talentkeepers.co.uk or call 01727 856169. Information about Jessica’s private client coaching practice and media activities can be found at www.jessicachivers.com.

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