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Kristin Maschka's picture

149212790I refused to be one of those people who criticized – or even commented too much – on Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, until I’d read it. Since my week included client crises, a non-profit board meeting, tap and drum lessons and oh yes, recovering from the hour we lost to Daylight Savings Time, I didn’t even pull it up on my iPad until late Thursday. I was pleasantly surprised to find many things I agreed with, yet often in the next paragraph I’d find something very wrong. Here are four of those Right/Wrong pairs.

1. RIGHT: Subconscious bias is at the heart of the problem.

“…research has already clearly shown: success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. …    I believe this bias is at the very core of why women are held back.”

Yes! Sandberg shines a light on the important research on implicit bias related to women and mothers. The challenge today is to help good people understand that they too act based on biases of which they have no conscious awareness.

WRONG: Asking women to challenge subconscious bias but giving up on the idea that we could also change processes and structures to mitigate for it.

After she relates how orchestra auditions behind screens dramatically increased the number of women hired Sandberg observes:

“Even today, gender-blind evaluations still result in better outcomes for women. Unfortunately, most jobs require face-to-face interviews.”

That's it? Couldn’t a Facebook COO ask her own Human Resources department to work with researchers to design recruiting and promotion processes that reduce  gender and other biases and share them with everyone?

2. RIGHT: “Don’t leave before you leave.”

“But when it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them. I have seen this happen over and over.”

Sandberg says women lean back in anticipation of children in the future and end up not being in the best job possible when they do. I also see young women decide on fields of work they assume will be family-friendly – like teaching – that turn out not to be. Our options depend far more on our boss and the workplace culture wherever we are at that point than on a particular field or a decision made along the way.

WRONG: “Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce.”

Huh? This is one of the rare spots in the book where is no paragraph of research, no endnote data to back this up. Many women leave because they hit a brick wall – the maternal wall – in some form or another like no paid maternity leave or sick leave, no flexibility at work, or being passed over for work we used to get before we had kids. Plenty of women - myself included - make one big decision to leave, when they are pushed.

3.  RIGHT: Women should think twice about deciding to leave the workforce because they can’t make enough to pay for childcare.

“One miscalculation that some women make is to drop out early in their careers because their salary barely covers the cost of child care. Childcare is a huge expense, and it’s frustrating to work hard just to break even. But professional women need to measure the cost of child care against their future salary rather than their current salary.”

WRONG: A trained economist neglecting to point out this is not a miscalculation but a rational economic analysis based on a tax policy from the 1940’s that was designed to push women out of the workforce.

After World War II Congress instituted mandatory joint tax filing for couples as a way of reducing taxes, and explicitly because they wanted mothers who had entered the workforce during the war to go back home. Thanks to that policy,  women today make the same economic analysis and often the same decision to leave the workforce. (This post Can I Make Enough to Pay for Childcare explains how it works.)

4. RIGHT: Embrace feminism. 

“Now I proudly call myself a feminist.”

Sheryl Sandberg might just make it cool to be a feminist.  She didn’t have to say this. She did. And that’s meaningful.

WRONG: Calling her own book a “feminist manifesto.”

In her introduction, Sandberg explains that her focus is on women’s own “internal barriers” and what individual women can do about them saying “These internal obstacles deserve a lot more attention, in part because they are under our own control.”

It’s always easier to believe that the solution is in something we can personally control as individuals, as opposed to what seems like the insurmountable challenge of working together using political and social change. Feminism is both, like a pair of shoes that can't be separated or we can't stride forward. The political without the personal is just abstraction. But the personal without the political is just self-help, not feminism.

~ Kristin


KRISTIN MASCHKA is the best-selling author of This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today and heads her own consulting firm helping women and leaders lead complex change in their workplaces, their families, and their communities. Kristin brings a fresh perspective and authentic voice to the issues at the heart of family and community life today: modern motherhood and fatherhood, leadership, business, and non-profits. This is cross-posted from her blog.

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