For too long, achieving equality has been seen as women’s burden. People (myself included) were disappointed by Marissa Mayer’s shirking of the feminist label, but few ever ask America’s male CEOs whether they consider themselves feminists. A recent “pop-up book club” from The Guardian asked “women of the internet, [to] gather around” to re-read Betty Friedan’s classic The Feminine Mystique. Again and again, we leave men out of the conversation about gender equality — a conversation whose success depends on their participation. …
[Sheryl Sandberg’s] book is laced with examples of men who have made a conscious effort to make their workplaces more equal, such as the case of a Goldman Sachs executive who instituted a universal “breakfast or lunch only policy” so that he could meet equally with male and female junior staff with no hint of impropriety stemming from a late-night dinner with a young woman. There’s also a Johns Hopkins medical school professor who, after watching Sandberg’s viral TED talk, got rid of hand-raising (women are less likely to keep their hands up) and just called on people randomly.
A reader sounds off at length:
Why is this a “women’s issue”? Where are the men in all this?
I agree wholeheartedly that many women make choices that opt them out, slow them down, limit their career paths. I’m also in the class of women Sandberg is speaking to (in terms of my social relationships and background – I went to an Ivy League college, have a graduate degree, am economically well-off, and most of my friends are similar). At age 39, I am shocked by how many of my women friends (almost all of whom are married with children) have opted out or slow tracked themselves. The very, very few who haven’t tend to be strong individualists, have a strong sense of personal identity and ambition, and are good at creating their own paths without model or example. They just get shit done and aren’t very concerned about what other say they can or can’t do or are or aren’t supposed to do.
(Some more context on me: I’m single, childless, own a marketing agency in New York – started partly because I changed careers in my early 30s and saw that I’d either have to fight past all kinds of tired ideas of about age, career path change, etc., or just do it my own terms. And part of my reason for changing careers was about really understanding that I needed to be able to provide for myself and look for a career path that would let me have the income and flexibility to have a kid on my own.)
It’s true just getting started on this makes me realize I have plenty to say about the choices women make, but when I take a step back, I always come back to, what does this have to do with the “choices” of women? It has just as much – if not more to do – with the conventions of and expectations for men. Culturally, men are on the other side of this “choice” dichotomy. To use Sandberg’s language, if the convention for women is to “lean out”, then the convention for men is to “lean in”, and that has just as many – and really more – unaddressed consequences.
But where are the regular books and articles about that, particularly from male leaders? Where are the conversations about men growing some balls and fighting for their rights to “lean out”? Where are the men stepping up and fighting for their work/life balance? Why are all these men letting women fight their battles? All of the husbands of those above-mentioned women and friends (working in mainly in finance, media, tech) want more time with their families, feel stressed and overworked, hate feeling like they don’t have time with their families. Well, why they fuck aren’t they stepping up and fighting all these battles about choice, balance, etc.? Why is this a “women’s fight”?
The reality is all of this should be about personal choice, motivation levels, letting men and women decide within their relationships what their best working arrangements are – not letting those be driven by conventions of society (men are paid more, women sometimes get paid maternity leave, etc.) Sandberg talks about Google deciding more maternity leave was better than having women opt out and having to hire new employees. Men don’t even have this choice. Imagine, for example, if men and women were given the same leaves? How would that change the entire dynamic of opt-in/opt-out, lean-in/lean-out career choices, of family dynamics and relationships, for the lifetime of working and having children?
All of which is to say: the reason all of this is so tired is because it still comes back to the same thing: Women are fighting, struggling, working for change, for something that’s better for them, for their families, for children, while men complacently sit by and sort of just wait and see how it falls out. And, really, any men worth anything knows that working in companies where there’s gender balance across levels and roles is WAY more rewarding, so there are plenty of reasons for them to care about all of this. (I’ll reference that story on how Etsy’s work to attract female engineers actually helped them get better and more male applicants as evidence that men know working with women is good thing.)
Long email – sorry – but the feminizing of this conversation drives me insane. It’s just the same crap with a fresh coat of paint.