Leaning In, Falling Flat

Rosa Brooks pushes back against Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” philosophy and the culture of overwork, arguing that women, in particular, should fight for their right to relax:

Here’s the thing: We’ve managed to create a world in which ubiquity is valued above all. If you’re not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the job is questioned. If you’re not checking email 24/7, you’re not a reliable colleague. But in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out.

Why? Because unlike most men, women — particularly women with children — are still expected to work that “second shift” at home. … It’s hard enough managing one 24/7 job. No one can survive two of them. And as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity. They’ll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they’re on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they’ll start dropping out.

Kathleen Geier applauds:

[S]lacking off unjustly gets a bad rap. People often enhance their abilities to think independently, to develop their own interests, and to do creative work when they’re not on someone else’s clock — when they’re just doing stuff they enjoy on their own time. It’s scary that our 24/7 economy seems to be allowing less and less time for that (at least, for those who are employed). I pity the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world who, as Kate Losse noted, appear to place little value on “pleasure and other nonproductive pastimes.”

Olga Khazan examines why Brooks’ call will be hard to follow:

U.S. policy doesn’t exactly make it easy to lean out even temporarily. Only about a fifth of moms get fully paid maternity time off, and high-powered “key employees” can be legally denied reinstatement if they go on family or medical leave.

Parents who truly wish to split the “workday” between actual work and childcare might also discover that the U.S. lacks a culture of part-time work, even though more than half of American working moms would prefer to work part-time or not at all. Part-time employees at American companies are much less likely to have access to benefits like retirement, medical care, and sick leave than are their full-time colleagues. U.S. workers are some of the least likely among the OECD nations to work part-time. (And even in countries where working less is accepted, the career disparity persists because it’s generally women, not men, who choose this route.)