working mothers

Sheryl Sandberg: Women Are Leaning In, But the System Isn’t Budging

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Facebook via Sheryl Sandberg

“My goal is very clear, and I wrote about it in’ Lean In’, which is that women run half our companies and countries and men run half our homes,” a frustrated but upbeat-sounding Sheryl Sandberg told USA Today in a comprehensive interview four years after the publication of “Lean In.”

It’s a good goal, but one that many critics noted could only be reached through policy changes, from paid leave for both parents to higher wages and anti-discrimination laws. And, as Sandberg has since acknowledged, her book’s advice doesn’t broadly apply or include single moms (among whom numbers, following the tragic loss of her husband), or service-industry and blue collar workers. As a working mom myself, I feel those critiques acutely—some of Sandberg’s advice may be personally useful for me, but I don’t see it changing the working landscape as I continue forward in my career.

Indeed, pinning a structural deficiency (aka institutional sexism) on women’s negotiating skills is a shallow fix. The problem of gender inequality runs too deep to be countered by an army of spunky career women with copies of Sandberg’s books under their arms at the office.

But here’s another person who seems to agree with the critique: Sandberg herself. That goal she wants us to reach, with half the work being done by women and half the care-taking by men? She admits that have not made much progress in four years. “In terms of women in leadership roles, we are not better off,” she said. “Overall, we are not seeing a major increase in female leadership in any industry or in any government in the world, and I think that’s a shame.”

She elaborated on this, noting that in politics (ahem!) with the Clinton loss, the problem has been exacerbated: “You know, we are 20% in the Congress. We have never had a woman president. We are 5% of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs. Paying attention to that is the first step and understanding that that’s not OK.” At least on some level she’s been listening, and she sees that all the leaning in in the world can’t topple the patriarchy.

Sandberg touted the “Lean In” circles that she encouraged through her book’s attendant organization, but her focus in the interview was on real solutions that involve actual policy changes beyond women being more assertive: strengthening paid leave, and increasing minimum wage (because you can’t pay for childcare if you can’t afford it).

Many of the issues we need to work on are as urgent as ever. We are the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have paid maternity leave. The only one. We are one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t have paid family leave. That’s unacceptable. Two thirds of minimum-wage workers are women. Unacceptable. All of these things need to be fixed.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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