Corporate Feminism And The Class Divide, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 7 2013 @ 5:07pm

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Time’s cover-story features Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial new book, Lean In. An excerpt from the book:

[W]omen rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way. A law associate might decide not to shoot for partner because someday she hopes to have a family. A sales rep might take a smaller territory or not apply for a management role. A teacher might pass on leading curriculum development for her school. Often without even realizing it, women stop reaching for new opportunities. By the time a baby actually arrives, a woman is likely to be in a drastically different place than she would have been had she not leaned back. Before, she was a top performer on par with her peers in responsibility, opportunity and pay. But by not finding ways to stretch herself in the years leading up to motherhood, she has fallen behind. When she returns to the workplace after her child is born, she is likely to feel less fulfilled, underutilized or unappreciated. At this point, she probably scales her ambitions back even further since she no longer believes that she can get to the top.

Caitlin Flanagan pans the book:

Sandberg claims she wants to end the Mommy Wars, and she provides plenty of boilerplate about how staying home with children is “demanding” and “important” work. But whenever she frets that her children might be better off if she spent more time with them, she reminds herself that the feeling is based on “pure emotion, not hard science.” She then goes on to provide research proving that children do no better when raised by their mothers than they do when raised by competent hired caregivers. In other words, staying home to raise one’s children really isn’t that “important” after all, or certainly not more important than making it to the top of corporate America.

Flanagan goes on to argue that, “if a young woman is interested in arranging her life so that she can spend a great deal of time with her children while they are young, Lean In has little to offer her.” Ann Friedman focuses on class issues:

Systemic solutions like more flexible family-leave policies and subsidized childcare would be game-changers for mommy warriors. But, ironically, when such policy solutions are on the table, the people on the front lines agitating for them aren’t professional-track mothers. They’re usually low-wage workers of all genders. 

Case in point: New York City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn is single-handedly blocking a bill that would ensure paid sick days for all workers in the city. This news item, which should be at the heart of the work-life balance conversation, has rarely been noted as we huff and puff about Sandberg’s circles and Mayer’s nursery. “While we all worry about the glass ceiling, there are millions of women standing in the basement,” British feminist Laurie Penny once wrote, “and the basement is flooding.” Have you read much about the domestic workers’ strike in California, much less participated in a Twitter debate about it? Me neither. The “mommy wars” is like a discourse borg that manages to absorb and distort all conversations about women and work.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett thinks Sandberg should pay more attention to the power of mentors:

[W]omen with sponsors are 27% more likely than their unsponsored female peers to ask for a raise. They’re 22% more likely to ask for those all-important stretch assignments, the projects that put them on the radar of the higher-ups. The more progress they make, the more satisfied they are, and the likelier they are to lean in — a “sponsor effect” on career advancement that we’ve quantified at 19%. As we noted in Harvard Business Review last October, sponsorship is the one relationship you’ve got to get right.

Jennifer Victor asks whether any of Sandberg’s “suggestions affect the likeable factor”:

Women hold themselves back from achieving success in part because people (men and women) tend to see success as a likable characteristic in men, but an unattractive characteristic in women. A successful man tends to be seen as charismatic and having leadership qualities that are appealing. A successful woman tends to be seen as being bossy, selfish, and all together unpleasant to be around. [Sandberg] cites studies, using compelling experimental design, to make this point.

Kira Goldenberg finds that the book neglects various types of women:

[T]hough she makes a clear effort to include all women—single, married, lesbians, with or without children—in Lean In, her whole philosophy is built around corporate climbers with supportive husbands that shoulder half the childcare. (Where do butch women fit into that suggestion to adhere to societal rules of femininity?)

And Anna Holmes defends Sandberg:

In much of the commentary, I’ve encountered the erroneous assumption that the book is written for corporate power players, which it isn’t, and an odd expectation it should speak for all women, which it shouldn’t. As Erin Matson, writing in January on another high-profile and controversial feminist agitation, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” put it: “In my experience, people can speak profoundly well for themselves, and do both themselves and others a disservice when they try to speak for everyone else at the same time.” Judged on its merits, “Lean In” is an inauguration more than a last word, and an occasion for celebration. Its imperfections should be regarded not as errors or exclusions but opportunities for advancing the conversation.

Earlier Dish on Sandberg’s book here.