Four points from the memoir by Facebook’ COO make valuable lessons for fathers
It took me a while, but I finally read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”. While this book was obviously written for working women, it contains lessons for dads as well. If you haven’t read the book, Sandberg’s excellent TED talk serves as an excellent “cliffs note version”. Here are 4 lessons from Lean In that seem particularly useful for working dads.
1. Keep doing the things you do well
Sandberg calls on women to adopt more traditionally male approaches in the workplace to better achieve parity. Some of what Sandberg advises women to do is to become more comfortable at negotiating, accepting praise, networking, and making their accomplishments more visible to others. While she contends men, in general, do this better than women, it is also true that some do this better than others, and that we all could be reminded that these actions are helpful to our careers. So guys, continue being mindful of the impression you project at work.
2. Continue “leaning in” until family comes along
The most controversial part of the book is Sandberg’s observation that many women make decisions to prioritize family over career well before they have a spouse or kids, unnecessarily slowing down their career trajectories. Instead, Sandberg recommends that women fully “lean in” to their careers until and if they need to make choices or trade-offs between work and family demands. In this way, they can ascend to higher levels and develop the skills, networks and bargaining power to maintain their careers during early motherhood.
Men tend to do this already—we climb ladders and then, in theory, are more able to use built-up flexibility, networks and accumulated credibility to work more flexibly when we become dads. But many men are not as mindful about their challenges, and, as a result, fail to plan and miss opportunities to act more flexibly. In fact, by some measures, fathers experience more work-family conflict than women during peak parenting years.
We working dads should more thoroughly prioritize and plan ahead, so that we can better use informal and part-time telework and other informal accommodations to help us avoid work-family conflict and stress. So, guys, keep leaning in—but also think ahead about how you’ll address your future work-family challenges.
3. Choose your spouse carefully
Sandberg asserts “the most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.” The lesson is that women should choose a spouse who is supportive of their careers and is willing to do his fair share of the family work. By doing so, women won’t be so overloaded with family demands that they can’t put in the time at work to build their careers.
I couldn’t agree more. The most important decision in your life is who you choose to co-create it with. You need to be up front about your life goals, and be sure you are on the same page as your spouse. There’s no wrong work-family arrangement, as long as you are both up front about your priorities, largely agree, and then put in the work to support each other.
If your priority is to climb the ladder and make a lot of money, make sure you both understand potential trade-offs, and that your spouse has priorities that match yours. If your priorities are to balance career with being a very involved dad, make sure your spouse is on-board with that set of trade-offs. Also, be sure to understand and support your spouse’s priorities.
So, guys, choose a spouse whose priorities match yours and then support each other. If you have a priority mis-match now, start working on it through open and honest communication.
4. Don’t Tear Other Men Down
When the book was first launched, Sandberg faced a firestorm from women who see things differently. She has been called anti-feminist and the book has been criticized for applying only to a narrow already-privileged segment of women. She has been criticized for not concentrating on structural or policy barriers for women (like Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter thoughtfully does). But I think this is unfair- we shouldn’t criticize a helpful book because it comes from a certain point of view or doesn’t cover every angle.
But women tend to criticize each other over parenting issues more than men tend to. Oy the “mommy war” internet arguments over stay-at-home vs. working moms, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, or hundreds of other topics.
So, guys, let’s not do this to each other. If another man has a different view or different priorities or made different choices, you don’t have to agree- but you don’t need to criticize. More directly, if there are dads in your workplace who are trying to balance work and family differently than you, don’t judge them- give them support. Ultimately, culture changes through a million little actions, and if we make it more ok for men to talk about family at work, we may be able to chip away at some of the work-family barriers men face. If you are a supervisor, be supportive. We are all in this together.
So, what do you think about Sandberg and her book? Do you have any other work-family advice for fellow dads? Let’s discuss in the comments.
—More from Scott Behson and Fathers, Work and Family: