Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Lean In"-Why Do Women Lean Back in the First Place?

Why do women lean back from the workplace so consistently?  Why does someone like Sheryl Sandberg have to encourage women to "lean in"?

One reason is they choose to do so. Some women have the option of working at home, raising children and providing a stable home life for a husband.  Some women have children with health problems that become the sole priority for a stay-at-home Mom. Several times in the book Sandberg expresses the utmost respect for those who have that choice and who choose to work at's difficult, important work.  Those women are not the target of her encouragement to lean in. 

Many other women don't have a choice.  "65% of married couple families with children in the United States have two parents in the workforce, with almost all relying on both incomes to support their household.   Being a single working parent can be even more difficult.  About 30% of families with children are led by a single parent,  with 85% of those led by a woman."   So there are two target populations of women she is talking to...those who have a choice and choose to work outside the home, and those with no choice.

So why do women who choose to be part of the workforce and those with no choices "lean back"?  One reason is the insecurity more common in women than men.  That insecurity causes women to consistently underestimate their abilities and gives rise to all kinds of fears..... fear of not fitting in, fear of not being liked because of her success, fear of not being seen as a team player, fear of seeming negative.....  Hence the recommendation to "sit at the table".

A second reason is that among those families with two parents in the workforce, the woman carries the overwhelming majority of the domestic duties.  Sheryl cites the most recent studies that "when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40% more child care and about 30% more housework than the father".  Women lean back because they are carrying more than their fair share of the load.   Hence the  recommendation to "make your partner a real partner."

A third reason is that in anticipation of the increased load that comes with children, women lean back before they need to and pass on promising career development opportunities. When they do choose to return to the workforce, they aren't presented with the challenging assignments that come with those passed up career development roles.  Hence the recommendation "Don't leave before you leave. Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the last minute."

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