A few thoughts on Lean In, which I have FINALLY got round to reading.
I wasn’t a fan.
Some of my issues related to the Big Stuff like “hey, what about STRUCTURAL THINGS” or “hey, you can’t have a revolution by imitating those in power, you have to CHALLENGE those in power”. Lots of my issues related to the specific advice too.
I wanna address one of the little issues in this blog, and may or may not come back to other issues at a later stage.
It’s the bit where she says “don’t leave before you leave” (a whole chapter is devoted to this). Sandburg’s contention is that young women get themselves off the path to success in anticipation of building a beta-career so they can better combine babies and continued paid work, and that this is a terrible thing that leads to women dropping out of the workplace like so many flies. Her advice is to stay the course, to lean in, to not scale back until you absolutely have to.
I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s quite possibly the worst advice anyone could ever give a young woman who wants to raise kiddies and have a career.
Like, it’s truly terrible terrible advice.
Really really really bad advice.
Can I say that one more time? This advice is totally misguided.
Sure, it sounds snappy and it fits her overall thesis, but as a standalone piece of advice, it is inapplicable to almost everyone she’s targeting.
Happily for me, Lean In hadn’t come out when I made the decision to scamper away from my corporate law job. Was it a good career move? Who knows. My intention was to build up skills that would enable me to get an interesting job which didn’t require long hours and which would therefore be a good fit for future (at that stage very hypothetical) motherhood. As it happened I have stayed in the job I moved to. Is that a good career move? Who knows. I think probably yes. What I can say with absolute certainty is that it has been an excellent life move. I got what I was after – interesting work where I can do scaled back hours. Until that’s available everywhere, I would strongly advise other women to chose their job opportunities with an eye to keeping options open for work of this sort. Speaking only in relation to law careers, because it’s all I know, that means don’t specialise in an area of law that requires you to work late every night. I think women are much more likely to drop out of the workforce all together if their only job options are those that necessitate very long hours. Clearly Sandburg isn’t that bothered by long hours, she mentions that she logs on after her kids are in bed. If that’s what you want, whatever, but it’s a VERY reasonable thing to reject.
Sandburg’s chapter on this point builds a straw man, starting with a discussion of a young employee stressed about future juggling when she wasn’t even in a relationship, let alone contemplating children soon. She makes it sound obvious that any desire to establish a mum-track career in advance of kids is completely ludicrous. I think she’s dead wrong. What’s ludicrous is expecting that you can quickly turn a high-flyer career into a parenthood-friendly career with no advance planning.
There is I think a fundamental problem in the book. Sandburg just doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get that some people want to be parents first and foremost, while also achieving professional success. This is subtly different from wanting to be a successful professional while also being a parent. Throughout, there is a tone of “hey c’mon, get in here, your kids will be fine with a nanny or whoever, just buckle down and focus – men don’t stress about guilt!” But what if the hang-up isn’t nebulous mother-guilt, but a desire to spend your time with the people you love – foremost your children? What if you want to leave the office at 5.30, have dinner with your family, and then not log back on?