April 3, 2017
Sheryl Sandberg leans in to the idea that leaning in might not be enough
by Julia Fleischaker
Four years ago, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg made a big splash, and spawned a movement, with the release of her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. It was no less than a cultural sensation, a sort of career manual for women facing institutionalized white-collar sexism. In the words of Jessica Guynn at USA Today,
Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead launched a national conversation on gender in the workplace and an online community of millions of working women ready to bulldoze the barriers they face, from being paid less and promoted less frequently, to carrying an uneven split of the housework and child care.
Four years later, Sandberg says working women are no better off. They are facing pushback in business and in politics, both in the U.S. and around the world.
As Trump might say: Sad!
As well meaning as it might have been, much of the issue, which anyone would be remiss to ignore, is the limited idea of struggle that Lean In accommodated. An updated version of “Can women have it all?”, Lean In seemed appropriate to, and meant for, only a small subset of women — those for whom the only question was, “How much are you willing to ask for?” For those who could feasibly demand more from their bosses, and also afford an unfavorable response; those who had families to lean on while they were leaning in; those, in short, who were in a place of privilege to demand more. Presumably, a woman earning minimum wage, or struggling to afford healthcare, or working two jobs, wouldn’t have had much time or space for the invocation to *just ask for more.*
So now, four years later, it’s encouraging to hear Sandberg acknowledge those limitations.
I posted publicly on Mother’s Day last year that I think I didn’t fully appreciate what it was to be a single mother. I certainly wrote about it in Lean In but I also wrote a whole chapter called “Make Your Partner a Real Partner,” which for people who didn’t have one must have been very hard to read.
I have thought a lot about what it is to be a single mother because now I am one. And financially, I don’t face the struggles that so many do. Thirty-seven percent of single mothers are living in poverty, 40% if you are black or Latina. That’s unacceptable.