Monday, March 25, 2013

I read "Lean In" and I don't get why everyone is so upset about it

We've already discussed how I believe we need more women in tech, so it's probably not a surprise that I read Lean In, written by Facebook's female COO Sheryl Sandberg.  It's been in the news a lot lately.

Before actually reading the book, I read that the book focuses on a certain niche -- better educated women in flexible situations.   Sandberg acknowledges that in the beginning of the book.  I read it focuses too much on what women can individually do, and not on what as a society we need to change -- which again, Sandberg acknowledges in the beginning of the book.   So we're clear, since several articles that I've read about the book seem to have not read the book at all, or not be paying attention, Sandberg writes:
I know some believe that by focusing on what women can change themselves -- pressing them to lean in -- it seems like I am letting our institutions off the hook  Or even worse, they accuse me of blaming the victim.  Far from blaming the victim, I believe that female leaders are key to the solution.  Some critics will also point out that it is much easier for me to lean in, since my financial resources allow me to afford any help I need.  My intention is to offer advice that would have been useful to me long before I had heard of Google or Facebook and that will resonate with women in a broad range of circumstances.  
So with the disclaimers early in the book about what the book is about, I have to say, I go on to pretty much agree with everything she says, and Sheryl Sanberg is my new "business crush".  And this probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm also in tech, pretty much doing everything she's proposing, and we are reading the same books.  She quotes a book that had a real impact to me, "Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All" in several places.  My favorite quote of the 50/50:  "The most important career decision you make is who you marry." 

Which for me, having the husband I picked has helped me take risks I wouldn't have otherwise considered.  Prime example:  I'm in my first trimester with my first child.  My husband is about to finish business school, getting an MBA full time.  We own a house, and I'm supporting us fully.  And I'm miserable at work.  Incredibly miserable.  Working 80 hours a week.  Traveling 40% of the time.  And I hate my job.  Crying every night when I come home at the end of the day hate my job.  Also, I'm exhausted and want to throw up every moment of the day because I'm pregnant.  My husband points out that this can't go on.  I reply that I'll have the baby, take maternity leave, go back to work for a few months, then start looking for another job.  My husband does the math and says, "So you'll be happy a year from now?"  I started looking for a job that night.  I started a new job three weeks later.  Switching jobs while pregnant wasn't my fantasy situation, and I wouldn't have even considered it had my husband not brought it up.

I've done things in my career which sounded ridiculous on paper.  Came back from maternity leave to a large project, deploying software that didn't exist yet for my employer's largest client.  (Thought I remember having at the time:  "This will either be amazing and I'll be able to write my own ticket here, or I'll need to get a new job.")  Managed a 24/7 support team, pretty much being on call 24/7 myself, and had a second child while I was at it.  Joining a startup while my husband is also at a startup--and starting MBA school in the fall.   (My reaction to getting accepted to an executive MBA program on the 8th day of my new job, a consideration I didn't think to bring up to my new boss during my whirlwind interview:  "Well, I have a month to decide which will allow me to see what this new job is like, and I can defer for a year, so I can postpone this if I need to."  My husband's:  "Obviously, you're going.")   To quote Sandberg, "if I waited until the timing was exactly right, the opportunity would be gone."

But with all these crazy, risky, stupid on paper decisions that my husband has encouraged, my career has skyrocketed.  I made choices that allowed me to grow my career quickly, which Sandberg encourages in the book, quoting Eric Schmidt, "only one criterion mattered when picking a job -- fast growth."

Sandberg also has a lot of discussion about working hours throughout the book, which is timely for me.  Starting a new job means I have to renegotiate with myself and my new company what working looks like, and it's been something I've been thinking a lot about.  As one of the first people at work at my old company, I was surprised to find people actually at my new office at 8:30 in the morning.  My husband and I have an agreement that I can work all I want as long as I'm home around 5:30-6pm and focused on the kids until they go to bed, and I'm leaving work when lots of people are still in the office.  Sandberg outlines her post-baby schedule at Google, including some creative calendar blocking, and summarizes the experience, "I realize that my concern over my new hours stemmed from my own insecurity."  Or as one of my own mentors said to me, "Don't worry about this--they didn't have you before, so what you are bringing to the company is more than what they had before."

It made me wonder, does my husband worry about work-life balance?  Apparently not.  (Another quote I highlighted in the book, "As Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, has noted, 'Show me a woman without guilt and I'll show you a man.'")  But he is still annoyed at several 5 pm meetings I accepted at my last job.  "It's 5 pm.  You need to come home.  I'm not sure why you accepted these meetings -- I decline meetings that happened at noon.  Noon is lunch time."  My response, "The meeting was with my boss' boss' boss.  It's not like I could say no."  His, "Why not?"   I still would accept the 5 pm meeting, but point taken -- be choosy and fierce about my time (the same advice I give my team members) and don't feel the need to apologize for that.  

I don't want to be the only woman in the room.  Lean In, people.  Lean In.