Thursday, June 20, 2013

More on "Lean In" - Questions of Age, Asking and Authority

On Tuesday night I went to see my friend Nanette speak on a panel at the Waban Library about, you guessed it, "Lean In." Yes, it's the book that keeps on giving, whether we like it or not (and just as a reminder, I did not like it). But there's just so much to it, that each time I discuss it, I find more to think about. So here are three more topics I want to keep exploring.

1. The target age for who should be "leaning in." The audience skewed a bit older for both this panel discussion and at Sandberg's appearance that I attended a few months ago. I think Sandberg was hoping to address a younger crowd, perhaps in their 20's, in her book, especially regarding her "don't leave before you leave" message directed at women who slow down their careers even before they have children. I wonder how much women in that younger decade are paying attention to all this. Does it even seem relevant? I'm not sure I would have thought it was as relevant to me back then. Are we seeing these issues once it's too late to address them?

2. The need to keep asking for what you want. In chatting with other attendees at the end of the panel discussion, I mentioned that I work from home one day a week. Someone said she'd asked to do that as well, and her company said no. But my company also said no when I first asked, and while it took years to get a yes, I'm really glad that I didn't stop asking. And as Marc said when I discussed this with him, maybe there's another company out there that will say yes, and a change is necessary.

3. The sweet spot of authority and responsibility. One of the panelists related that she'd once been told that workplace success is related to having the right combination of responsibility within the job and authority for getting the job done well. Finding the balance of these two things is a struggle I've been grappling with, without being able to boil it down to such simple terms. I definitely feel I have enough responsibility in my current role, but lack the authority I should have to really do the job well. I think this will be a useful framework for discussing upcoming changes in my role at work.

So, lots more to keep thinking about. Have you read the book? Are there any new questions you've had since then?


  1. One of the big questions I have for the author is what will she do when the kids are older.

    1. You can't outsource everything - such as a family tree, family dinners, etc. You need to be present.

    2. As her kids age, and see her work 24/7, is this something that she wants for her own kids? Should everyone forgo leisure time, family time, volunteer opportunities and only work on work?

    3. What would happen if her own children choose to become stay at home parents? Will she be okay with that?

    4. How do you coach women who are in hourly jobs to grow and better themselves? How do women working at Target (struggling with health care costs, housing, etc)? She has led the "charmed" life, but how does that translate to people who don't "know" people or have a Harvard degree?

    Just curious to know her answers on these questions for the moment.

    Great post!

  2. I'm responding to Cheryl's original post, not the (thoughtful and interesting!) comments above. I discussed "Lean In" with a few younger friends from Junior League, currently in their first post-college jobs, and they were shocked that certain things were still being discussed as major issues. They articulated that obviously you have to negotiate your salary (and they all had - again, in their first post-college jobs) and were horrified that women didn't know to take a place front-and-center at the table. At first I was a little taken aback, but they're evidence of the great strides women have made (and they have appropriate respect for the work of women who came before them to make this possible). One of my other League friends, however, an accomplished attorney, pointed out that a lot of decisions are made "before anyone is even at the table" and those are discussions which do not always include women - the illusion of choice.

  3. I confess I haven't read the book... I suppose that makes it unfair of me to criticize, but I'm going to do it anyway. I know I can't read the book because when I start, I'm going to get so mad I'm going to throw it at something... Based on everything I've read/seen about it, the author completely ignores race and class privilege in her book. These are not something one can just ignore. The median family income in the US is $50,000/year for a family of FOUR. Sure in places where cost of living is high, it is a little higher. I think the CT state median income is around $62k for a family of four. I live in CT, with a family of 3, and we would have a serious problem trying to live on that annual income. And that is just the median. HALF of all families live on less than that! She also seems to be perpetuating the great capitalist myth that we live in a meritocracy. I can't take anyone seriously who really believes that. Hard work and talent are NOT all that matters.
    Have you read Barbara Erhenreich's new book about the consequences of outsourcing our domestic lives? I can't remember the title, but it looks interesting.