I read a piece this morning written last year by Rosa Brooks, published in the Washington Post, “Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg)“. What I took from the writer was that Sandberg has encouraged an expectation on women to “lean in” and do it all: career, family, social life. An expectation that is now taking away the opportunity for women to “recline”: relax, vacation, read — you know, enjoy life.
I get what Brooks is saying: “Lean In” just increased the pressure for women to have successful careers, picture-perfect homes, and wonderful families where mothers attend the parent council meetings and bake cookies for bake sales. I’m not dismissive of either “Lean In” or Brooks’s essay. Sandberg brought significant profile to the imbalances and misogyny that exist for women in the workplace and opened an important conversation about what it takes for women to operate — and grow their careers — in what remains largely a male-dominated world. (And just to provide a source to back up my statement about the “male-dominated world”: women make up 45 per cent of the workforce of S&P 500 companies, but only 4.2 per cent — or 24 of those companies — are led by women). Brooks makes important arguments of the pressure on working women to kill it at both their career and the “second shift” at home.
They’re both right. That’s where the pressure becomes even more challenging. How we for the sake of all women do the impossible: achieve balance. I think “balance” has become a loaded word. A selling feature offered by many companies is “work-life balance,” but I’ve worked in a couple places where their definition of my “work-life balance” is very different from mine.
And there, in my opinion, lies the issue. Balance means something different to everyone. Some women, like Sheryl Sandberg, find their own balance, which is different from the balance of Rosa Brooks, which is different from what balance is for me and my family.
The onus, in my opinion, is on everyone — women, men, children (but especially women, since, really, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together) — to appreciate that everyone lives different lives shaped by unique personalities and circumstances. Removing the judgment and moving to support and respect is the key.
That sounds lame and simplistic. If Rosa Brooks (and me, honestly) needs to take the time to sit on the couch with a book or a movie and a glass of pinot noir on a Friday night rather than staying late at work on an extra project you took on to prove you can handle it — that’s fine. And if you want to stay at work late on a Friday night to work, then I won’t judge you (or assume you’re trying to make me look bad), but don’t judge me for taking some downtime, or assume that because I took the downtime you’re better at your job than I am at mine.
Success for women involves making the decisions that work for us, our families and our employers. Find a workplace culture that suits your lifestyle and that of our family.
I love my job. Sometimes I work late or go in on a Saturday, sometimes I travel on a Sunday for a meeting on a Monday, but sometimes I leave early on a Friday to pick up my daughter from school for a Starbucks date where we sit, read and chat, or leave midday for an hour for family reading day. My culture wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me and my family. If anyone wants to pass judgment when I leave a little early on a Friday, they’re free to do so, but I know it fits into my work-life balance. Work is happy with my performance — my career is moving in a direction I am satisfied with, and I find time to chill out on a Sunday afternoon for boardgames day with my family (and only check my work email once or twice that day).
Strong women have opinions, and there are many opinions about the right way (and wrong way) to achieve equal pay and more women in leadership and political positions.
For me the answer is about being supportive, and taking time to walk in each other’s shoes and appreciate what we can all bring to the solution to find and respect our own individual balance.