Can Women Really 'Have It All'?

Image from the Atlantic
Sheryl Sandberg has been all over the news lately, as she promotes her Lean In project with guidelines about how women can make it to the top in the workplace.

Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and a former VP at Goggle, has some really interesting points.  If you haven't seen her Ted talk, in which she discusses the way powerful women are viewed in society and having equal partners, you should.

But when you listen to Sandberg its hard not to think that somehow its been easier for her, given that she's a billionaire (ok, maybe just a multi-millionaire).  I think its unfair to criticize Sandberg for writing her new book from her position - the whole point is to say, 'this is how I got here and how you can too'  and her success is what gives her credibility. That said, it's important to acknowledge where she comes from.  Not all of us start off with two Harvard degrees.  Not all of us have or will have hired help to do the lion's share of child rearing.  For many of us, the instructions to be more ambitious and work harder are hard to swallow - and come across a little bit like blaming women for our lack of achievement without recognizing some of the struggles that we face.

Anne Marie Slaughter, former Dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson's School of Public and International Affairs and Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, thinks otherwise: that having it all either requires you to be rich, or to make your own schedule.  For the people who are not wealthy and who's jobs do not allow them to make their own schedules, a lot will have to change before we can have it all.

Here is a quote from here Atlantic article entitled "Why Women Can't Have It All" - which you should definitely read.

These “mundane” issues—the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office—cannot be solved by exhortations to close the ambition gap. I would hope to see commencement speeches that finger America’s social and business policies, rather than women’s level of ambition, in explaining the dearth of women at the top. But changing these policies requires much more than speeches. It means fighting the mundane battles—every day, every year—in individual workplaces, in legislatures, and in the media.

This is a really interesting subject for me, and I haven't formulated crystal clear opinions on it yet, but I really appreciate the discussion.  Both of these women make points that I agree with: sometimes women should be more agressive, particularly when it comes to negotiations and valuing their work, and employers should make accommodations that would benefit all of their staff (not just women) but also likely make it easier for employees with families (or any other non-work commitments) to adjust. And they both have points that I disagree with: I don't think that lack of ambition is the  reason there are fewer women at the top, and I dislike the continuous characterization of women being more responsible for child rearing as a result of biology rather than societal pressures. Neither women address the fact that merely having a child is different from being a good parent, or why women might feel that being a good parent demands more from them than it does from the father.

If you have the time, here are a few more reads on the subject.  The New Yorker did a great profile of Sheryl Sandberg, and Nick Kristoff has a short piece discussing the pros of Sheryl Sandberg's proposition, while adding what else can be done to help women succeed in the work place.

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