After seeing Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg speak at BlogHer ’13 back in July I was annoyed she didn’t take questions/comments for I had a few of my own. But, I also felt like I couldn’t really voice my opinion until after I actually read her book, Lean In. Well, I finally got around to reading it this week. The book addresses gender inequality in the workplace and asks women “what they would do if they weren’t afraid” and tries to advise them how to and why they need to “lean in and sit at the table”.
Sheryl’s book achieved what it set out to do which was get people to acknowledge that we still have gender gap issues and that we need to keep talking about them and educate others in the workplace on what true gender equality means not just for women, but for our economy. It probably has inspired many pregnant women to ask for that parking spot close to the building too and to sit at the table instead of in the corner at the next big meeting. Her book was ballsy, but not for re-raising the issues of which many women long before her have raised. Rather, for someone who ranked fifth on Forbes Most Powerful Women (in the world) list, it was a ballsy move to write this book and expose her vulnerabilities for the sake of all other women.
However, let’s be clear: being ballsy isn’t the same as leaning in or sitting at the table (but it’s a good start).
My biggest issue with the book was the same I had with Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic (Jan 2012, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All) which was that society, both men and women alike, have contributed to the gender gap with unrealistic expectations and stereotypes about women. To be fair, Sheryl addresses the female side of the issue encouraging women to speak up and not be afraid of consequences when going after things they righteously deserve. She also addresses how women can be their own saboteurs by not helping to promote or advocate on behalf of other women. However, in the part where she aims to appeal and educate a small male audience about how they need to change their behavior in the workplace, she never addresses the most important issue of the affect the male role model has in the home. To me, this is what drives little boys who become men with a gender bias, conscious or otherwise.
Most men emulate their fathers or become the antithesis of their fathers. But in either case, they learn how to be like a man and how to/how not to act from the male role model in the home starting at a very young age. “The human brain is wired for imitation. Every boy loves his father and wants to be able to do what he does, both to honor him, to earn his praise, and to compete with him,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., host of the PBS RAISING CAIN documentary. When men start to be better men at home, setting better examples on how to treat women not just in the workplace but outside the workplace, then they’ll inevitably emulate that behavior. Arguably it’s the same issue we have with racism and homophobia. Where do children learn those behaviors? They learn it from their parents. Sure, some children learn from other kids, but those kids learned it from their parents. And some kids learn it from the media, but again, if the parents don’t step into correct the behavior, how can we blame a boy who grows into a man and unconsciously promotes gender inequality when he know no better?
If we taught our sons to be better men from birth, taught them to respect women and recognize that women are just as smart and can do many of the same jobs that men can do, then we’d narrow the gender gap considerably.
I appreciated Sheryl’s willingness to expose her vulnerabilities and her anecdotal stories to inspire future generations to narrow the gap. I just wish she had added one more chapter on parenting and elaborated on how men get these crazy ideas of superiority in the first place and how we can change it.