15 July 2013

Summer Reading: A Few Reasons Why Men Should Read LEAN IN, Too

I thought the coverage around LEAN IN, Sheryl Sandberg's business book on feminism and leadership published earlier this year, was ubiquitous till I talked to a man who'd never heard of it. Being seen reading it was common enough among my social circle -- 20 and 30somethings, primarily career-minded, urban, left-leaning. And women. Sure, a subtitle like WOMEN, WORK AND THE WILL TO LEAD and an author known for being a trailblazing Silicon Valley COO due to her gender is probably going to pull in a disproportionate number of female readers -- as well as Sandberg's topics of work-life balance and mentorship. It should be clear why those topics don't just apply to 50 percent of the population, but while I was deeply ashamed not to have read it around the time it came out, my male interlocutor was able to ask "What's LEAN IN?" with no embarrassment. Here are a few talking points I used to convince him to read it:

  • The company man is dead, long live career planning. LEAN IN advocates that workers find ways to improve their companies' policies but also not be afraid to walk. Back when a breadwinner might stay at the same institution for a whole career, questions about role- and job-changing were much less common. Now most Americans can expect to switch companies, roles, even careers, not just those who might be planning for taking leave to start a family.
  • Better leadership helps everyone. One argument for increasing women's participation in the work force which I had never heard before LEAN IN was to treat women stopping out like a brain drain. If 50 percent of the top talent in a given work situation is at risk of having to resign or stop out, that is a huge loss to the people who stay behind, not just those who leave. 
  • Mentees need mentors. Sandberg devotes special attention to the important roles both male and female mentors can play in helping women advance their careers. Men could be in the position to help a female colleague out, or be mentored by one (and accept that help gracefully) -- reinforcing her importance at the office. This could be especially important in the type of company where a woman's day-to-day coworkers are all women, but upper management is disproportionately male. 
  • Passive paternal parenting is for "Mad Men." The family structure of breadwinner-father, caregiver-mother has been essentially defunct for decades as most women in America (75%) work outside the home, and 40% are their households' primary breadwinners. Men are now expected to fully participate in parenting, and that's great, because just as with better corporate leadership, they have skills and talents to offer that shouldn't be ignored just because of their gender. LEAN IN's admonishment to pick a spouse who will be a good parent is a little uncomfortable to an unmarried person (I mean, how can you tell?!) but at least asking for, and getting, an active parent as a partner is well within reach.


D.H. Sayer said...

Re "LEAN IN's admonishment to pick a spouse who will be a good parent": There goes 700 years of romance since Il Canzoniere out the window...

In all seriousness, my libertarian friend keeps reiterating that a marriage is a legally binding agreement between 3 parties: Two people, and the government. I'm open-minded enough to see what he means; it's all so official, why shouldn't some degree of practicality enter into it? *shrugs*

Ellen said...

You could argue that marriage as an institution has been a business arrangement much longer than it has been a meeting of true minds, etc.

Sandberg acknowledges that her advice is not very romantic. I think she has a point in some ways (someone who isn't supportive of your career when you're 20-somethings probably isn't going to change his or her mind!) But speaking as an unmarried person, it feels like madness to have to do all these things for my career and also predict the future.