Lean In: Women can move up the career ladder as soon as men change

Lean In, the bestselling book by Nell Scovell and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, has a chapter advising women on how to pick a husband if they want to succeed in Corporate America. The chapter is titled “Make Your Partner a Real Partner.” It turns out that marriage is correlated with success: “Of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, twenty-six were married, one was divorced, and only one had never married.”

Sandberg and Scovell decry the findings of surveys that, on average, men don’t do as much in the home as women. The book says “We all need to encourage men to lean in to their families.” I.e., men should be changed. The authors are not wide-eyed optimists when it comes to the prospects of scrubbing up a Neanderthal into a sensitive vegan so they recommend careful selection prior to the marriage: “do not marry [an attractive-to-you man]. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner.”

How easy is this? “Wonderful, sensitive men of all ages are out there. And the more women value kindness and support in their boyfriends, the more men will demonstrate it.” The chapter concludes “We need more men to sit at the table… the kitchen table.”

[To the woman who hasn’t been successful in finding a plausible mate, Sandberg’s message is basically “Look how incompetent you are compared to me. Not only do you make less than $50 million per year but you didn’t realize that there are millions of single guys out there who would rather change diapers and talk about feelings than watch NASCAR and football.”]

The couples with which Sandberg is familiar seem to be ones in which nannies and cleaners do most of the household and child-related work. Really the marital squabble seems to come down to which parent decides how to spend the near-infinite river of family income on local, organic, vegan, and gluten-free items at Whole Foods. The authors cite a couple in Massachusetts that I actually know. The mom is a bigshot at a non-profit organization. The dad is a child psychiatrist who, according to Sandberg, “leaned in” to do far more than the traditional male share of child rearing. Perhaps he did, but this couple has twins that are about the same age as Greta, my 3.5-year-old, so I see the kids a lot. Of the 50 or so times that I’ve seen the twins, were they with mom or dad? Once they were with mom. Once they were with both parents. 48 times they were with a Brazilian nanny.

What about the woman who does not expect to command Sandberg-style financial resources and the associated team of domestic laborers? Or the woman who is skeptical of her ability to hold a man to promises of extraordinary child-rearing efforts that he made before he had any idea of what marriage and child-rearing entailed? Let me suggest what I think is far more practical advice than Sandberg and Scovell’s: Marry the only child of immigrant parents. The couples that I know of where there is the least amount of conflict regarding household- and child-related tasks are those in which the immigrant grandparents live nearby (or in the same house) and cheerfully and skillfully contribute a huge amount of effort toward making the family successful. With Grandpa and Grandma around nearly 24×7 it is no longer critical whether or not the husband can be persuaded to give up his career ambitions, his television and video game addiction, etc.


21 thoughts on “Lean In: Women can move up the career ladder as soon as men change

  1. Right on! Although I’d say that my wife’s grandparents are not immigrants but all the same at helping out, help out in every way just as you say. Thank god for them! And I spend loads of time with my kids bcuz I want o….even sometimes to the detriment of my own career. Most guys don’t get this. Succeful familes = balanced kidz. well as much as possible these days.

  2. We have actually tried something similar to what you suggest. My husband is not the only child of his parents but his is the only male and the only one of 4 siblings living in this country. In the past his parents have spent a significant amount of time living with us and helping us take care of the kids. But, guess what, even if they were extremely helpful (and I am very grateful for that and I probably would have had to stop working a long time ago if it wasn’t for that) I am still the one who has to take them to the doctor or dentist if they have to, the one who has to help them resolve issues if they have any and the one who has take them places over the weekend so they don’t feel they are our slaves. Meanwhile, my husband often stays at home relaxing and getting ready for the following week’s work. No wonder my father in law has said several times he only comes to spend time with the kids but otherwise he would never do it …

  3. Just in case anybody is wondering, I am also the one who has to take care of MY parents when they are here. It is not like my husband does it when my parents are the ones here …

  4. Phil,

    I guess the emphasis is on IMMIGRANT parents of the spouse. Because if I had to endure my wife’s parents (who are decidedly not immigrants) around my home more than once every few months there would almost assuredly be a mass murder in southern Virginia. !!
    Although I do agree with your premise that grandparents can be almost infinitely helpful with children…if one can stand to be around them.
    Why do you suppose immigrant parents of a spouse function better?

  5. Phil: Well said. Sandberg is dispensing advice from her pedestal of aberration, and it serves nothing except her own self-aggrandizement.

    Really, big careers are incompatible with child-rearing. One parent with a big career is a grossly imbalanced relationship, but some people can make it work. Two parents with big careers are not parents, except biologically.

    Some nannies are great, and thank goodness someone is around to take care of the absentee progenitors’ offspring.. But let’s be honest, if your nanny is raising your children, you’re not a parent, you’re a sponsor. Even if you spend “quality time” with them on weekends!

  6. What about the alternative of not having children? You can then choose a hot fun spouse rather than a boring a predictable one (did I say predictable? I meant dependable) and keep all the money.

    I do doubt that people with kids today will avoid paying for care in their old age anyway, so they are at a net loss economically, they worry non stop until death (once a parent forever a parent), and have less sex. In addition kids might try to highjack your free time to be a free nanny + cleaner…

  7. Mark: Why the emphasis on immigrants? This is based on my personal observations of friends’ marriages and lives. The American-born grandparents that I know tend to be slightly older, since they themselves had children later in life. The American-born grandparents that I know are more likely than immigrants to be either working or wrapped up in their own activities, e.g., golf and tennis. The American-born grandparents that I know are much less likely to be willing to move to follow a child and grandchildren.

  8. @Federico: What about the alternative of not having children? Be thankful that your parents didn’t make this decision.

  9. I’m an immigrant myself, 1981. I can tell you having grandparents around is a big help for raising a family, from those occasional baby sitting, down to emotional support. It can also be a negative if the grandparents don’t know their limit and stick their noise into your family.

    I’m not a support of a day care or a nanny, even if they are supper great: they don’t add a value that the biological parents bring in.

  10. CEO at a Fortune 500 is a two-person job. The spouse is managing a bunch of stuff at home as well as the CEO’s social calendar.

    Also, most women tend to want men who make more money than them.

  11. @George: how could I be thankful for my parents? Had they decided not to have children I would not exist, and that would have been it. I, and so everybody else, did not ask to be conceived. All the other children they did NOT conceive, what should they do? and what could they do?

    @joecanuck: there are very solide Malthusian reasons why someone with children might end up with the very same fitness as someone who did not. In addition, I do not care a fig about my fitness, and whether my spawn will be around in 1000 years — I would not be around to witness anything anyway.

  12. @Frederico,

    You stated that we have the alternative of choosing a hot fun spouse over having a child and we get to keep all the money (spent on said child).
    There’s one deep flaw to your alternative suggestion: Most hot fun spouses inevitably end up costing way more than the child would have costed. ))

  13. The temptation for somebody like Sandberg or Marissa Mayer or any successful woman is to marry the boss, ie somebody as or even more successful. Sandberg’s advice is, marry a guy who is less ambitious than you are. Two very career-oriented people don’t complement one another. Marry Denis Thatcher.

  14. Immigrants usually (not all the time) come from cultures where extended families are the norm. By extended families I mean multi-generations that live in the same household or very close proximity. Extended families do have a lot of advantages in caring for young and old alike.

    Extended families in the US are not the norm today. Families tend to be nuclear – parents and kids as a separate unit.

  15. I am addressing both Phillip’s original post and a few of the comments here.

    Sheryl Sandberg’s book is really only about one thing: how to get more women into the top positions across society. That’s c-level jobs and leadership positions in government. The numbers are stalled at 13 to 16 percent. If Phillip wants Greta to do something other than marry-well-and-sue-for-half (not a bad business model, requires few skills and many daughters get to see examples of how that works more often than they see examples of how to be a CEO), then he should be working harder to understand the problems and preparing Greta to deal with them.

    There is only one chapter that deals with finding a domestic partner (“Making Your Partner a Real Partner”) and it never mentions vegetarians. That seems to be Phillip’s hangup. It *does* point out that in families where both parents work the woman winds up handling more of the domestic tasks. That means that time is stolen from the woman’s career rather than the man’s, to he will advance further and faster. For a couple with two careers the right thing to do is to split the work fifty-fifty. Obviously, a lot of less important work (school drop offs and pickups, certainly) is done by someone you hire and trust. Or a family member, if you are that lucky. If your child is being regularly deposited at some school you might hire someone to do that task (which used to be done by the child themselves on their own two feet, I don’t know why they stopped being able to walk). A few mornings that person might not be available or your child might have an issue and want a parent there.

    Out of fifty times, you might have the parents drop off the child twice. One would hope if the couple supported the idea of the woman’s time being as important as the man’s that you would see the man show up *once* and the woman show up *once.*

    Check my math and see if Phillip was, in fact, seeing the very behavior that Sheryl is suggesting we hope for.

    As soon as you have resources you may hire people to do some of the domestic work. They might collect the children from school, make them dinner, give them a bath, and help them with homework. Women who work might have some guilt about those tasks being done by someone else, but the studies show that it is actually the PARENTING that matters, not the time put in. You are not simply “a sponsor” if you wind up working through most of your child’s waking hours during the week. If you make the decisions about what sort of school they attend, how their day is structured, what sort of meals they have… those things affect their lives and happiness more than who is actually wiping their butt.

    Do women really want a man who earns more than they do? I haven’t seen studies that show that. Anecdotally, I know many couples who feel like the man is more fairly compensated than the woman and, at least in that context, it certainly makes sense that the wife would want the husband to make more. At least ONE of them is getting a fair shake in that instance.

    It amazes me that people are willing to attack Sandberg for writing the book. The idea that putting out a “new feminist manifesto” is something that will “build her brand” or “make her more successful” is hysterical. There’s a lot of money in poking holes in the status quo, right? That’s why Trump is so busy on his book about sticking it to the 1%.

    There’s also a willingness to dismiss Sheryl’s advice because she is successful. That doesn’t happen with men. (When Jack Welch’s book came out there was NO material saying, “Thanks a lot for telling me I’m a loser that isn’t making $50m a year…”)

    As an aside, it feels like bad journalism (even for the sort of writing that passes for journalism on a weblog) not to mention that the book was a gift from the author. And there was not even a passing reference to how good the writing was or how the humor kept it from being too dry.

  16. Colin: I was a lot harsher on Jack Welch! See http://www.amazon.com/review/R1HKVPH5DOJKEA (my one-star review from 2002 of Jack Welch’s book). I’ll reproduce it here as well…

    If you want to learn the names of every person who ever worked at GE during Jack Welch’s 40 years there, you’ll find this book invaluable. If you want to learn something about what made GE successful, however, good luck picking out the few saplings of wisdom from the thick forest of names.
    Golf and tennis fans will also find the book fascinating for its endless catalog of golf and tennis resorts nationwide. Apparently being anywhere near the top at GE requires moving to Fairfield, Connecticut and aping the Lifestyles of the Bland and WASPy.

    One interesting thing I learned is that GE went from 0 percent employee ownership to 31 percent during Jack Welch’s tenure as CEO, primarily through granting of stock options to top managers such as Jack himself. Jack doesn’t talk about this except to say that he’s proud of the number. He doesn’t get into the question of whether the investors from 1980 are happy now that they own less than 70 percent of the company. Nor does he talk about what would have happened to GE’s earnings if they’d accounted for all of these stock options at time of issue.

    The useful and interesting content in this book could have been presented in 75 pages if the editors and ghostwriter had been doing their jobs. But they weren’t doing their jobs. So the readers all have to “give 110 percent” or “give 1000 percent”. Maybe this is what Jack Welch wanted because he uses these expressions numerous times throughout Straight from the Gut.

  17. Colin: Also, thanks for the book! But there is still time for me to talk about how great it is. I just dived into this one chapter and wrote about it first. I am not going to make any overall comments on the book until I’ve read the whole thing. My main point was just to get the idea out there that, if one were inclined to choose a mate by using a checklist, it would be safer to rely, for household tasks, on a man’s retired parents than on a man.

  18. I’m with Dan in terms of women generally wanting to marry men who make more money than they do (or who appear potentially to make more money, viz., the high demand for medical school and law school males among my peers). So when I read Sandberg’s description of the importance of marrying a male who will contribute 50% or more to the housework and childcare burden, and her citing women whose husbands make far less than they do (Sandberg is a case in point; however, her Survey Monkey CEO hubby is wealthier than most men, albeit less than Sandberg) as good choices, I wondered where these well-educated women were who made that choice. Virtually none of my neighbors in an affluent DC suburb or college classmates at an Ivy League school behaved in this manner. (There are a few exceptions, granted, but they’re few and far between.)
    But I appaud Sandberg, who’s COO at FB, has 2 children under age 10, and looks reasonably rested in photos. And she managed to co-author a best-seller to boot, and is now travelling on the talk show circuit (Jon Stewart and so forth). A gf this am and I were chatting about Sandberg “leaning in,” and gf joked that we merely “leaned over” to avoid falling out of the chair onto the floor (we each have 4 kids). Full disclosure — have read only Amazon.com preview of book, and several reviews.

Comments are closed.