The Leaning Sex
Sheryl Sandberg. Photograph by Drew Altizer
I am not the first person to notice that Lean In does not propose any concrete changes to corporate or public policy in order to accommodate women in top jobs, with a single exception. When she was at Google, Sandberg had trouble finding a parking place at the company headquarters one day. Heavily pregnant, nauseous, she barely made it to her meeting. The next day “I marched in—or more like waddled in—to see Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their office.” Finding Sergey “in a yoga position in the corner,” she announced that the company needed pregnancy parking, “preferably sooner rather than later.” He agreed immediately.
Other than that, this book provides no evidence that Sandberg’s presence at the top of the company has directly altered the corporate culture of either Google or Facebook. She does speak vaguely of more tolerance for parental duties, family-friendly working hours, and sharing tasks with husbands (as noted, she does not mention nannies, after-school programs, or day care). But she gives no examples of where or how this has been successfully transformed into a company policy. At the same time, all of her personal anecdotes show her working harder, longer hours than anyone else and accepting bigger, tougher challenges. Generally, she advocates adjusting one’s life to the punishing routine of corporate success rather than vice versa. That’s what she did, and that’s what successful men do too.
One presumes that Sandberg is more inclined than a man in her position to hire a woman or to recommend one, that the very existence of top women encourages others. But if she ever did anything specifically for her female colleagues, by example or by design, she doesn’t say so. Nor is she unique. Recently Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo—another female business superstar—banned her employees from working from home. That much-discussed decision seemed, to many, to reflect a lack of female solidarity, since working from home is particularly good for mothers. More recently, Mayer seemed to atone for that decision by declaring that Yahoo would begin offering eight weeks maternity or paternity leave to both men and women at the company. Yet this too sends a confusing message. Mayer herself famously took only two weeks maternity leave, and worked all the way through them. Shouldn’t women who want to run companies follow her example, not her public pronouncements?