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Women Need to “Lean In” to Get Ahead in Business or What Sounds Like Use Their Bodies to Get Ahead or “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg”

March 13, 2013

I don’t know what it is about Sheryl Sandberg’s commentary about women in the workforce who want to get ahead that bothers me so much, the fact that “lean in” sounds surprisingly sexual, like using your body to get ahead, or the fact that it is still so much a woman’s body plus her fault that she has not gotten ahead.  Controversy about this advice from Facebook’s COO reflects more of the corporate abusive policies toward women. Here is the biology, People: women have to have the babies.  There is no artificial womb, and as such, because growing a human being from a cell up is hard work, women may not be able to push to satisfy all of men’s appetites at the same time, from sex, to business, to working harder and longer than men for less pay.  Surprisingly, Sandberg neglects to mention that women still make only half of what most men make, and for most women, this equation simply doesn’t make sense.

Still, Sandberg stresses what every good Ole White Man’s Club boy wants to hear: 1) men never really have to grow up and address women as equals and 2)if even women are criticizing other women, then it’s certainly acceptable to criticize women for doing double the work of most men for half the pay.  Hmm, and people wonder about divorce statistics… (See my post about women shunning marriage and children because of this work differential equation here:

Sandberg’s work, if we can call it that, rests on the same old structure of knocking other women down so that she can get up, and it’s obnoxious, rude, and frankly, predatory. If Sandberg has the best of all worlds, and if she is so supposedly successful, why the need for demeaning other women for not working hard enough? If she is so secure, so stable, then there should be no need to demand more of other women, because she should be secure enough in herself, and herein lies the true rub: Sandberg is no more secure in her work than the rest of us, and it’s proved by her rhetoric.  Consider other business books like The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, or The 4-Hour Workweek, both very successful books about business, or Rich Dad Poor Dad, and all with dubious concepts for success, and yet while written by men, leave off directly telling women in particular to work harder. If Ms. Sandberg were so cush in her success, her tone would have been much more generous and not so physically suggestive. “Lean in” to me sounds like “get close; brush your breasts; heave and pant while you’re at it; if you happen to touch is his penis, all the better…” “Leaning in” just frankly sounds like sex talk, not business speak about how to get ahead, and it’s in this respect that Ms.Sandberg shows just how little she knows.

Others are also bemoaning the admonishments from Sandberg, but without noting that the business reference sounds sexually suggestive:

Even Anne-Marie Slaughter, a policy analyst and Princeton professor who has fueled the debate with a piece in the Atlantic about why women “can’t have it all,” praised Sandberg for most of a New York Times book review on Sunday but gently circles back to a critical conclusion:

“Sandberg’s approach, as important as it is, is at best half a loaf,” she wrote. “(And) it is hard not to notice that her narrative is what corporate America wants to hear. For both the women who have made it and the men who work with them, it is cheaper and more comfortable to believe that what they need to do is simply urge younger women to be more like them, to think differently and negotiate more effectively, rather than make major changes in the way their companies work.”

This is unfortunate, Slaughter said. “Sandberg seems ideally placed to ask the question that all too often gets lost amid the welter of talk. … When it comes to ensuring that caregivers still have paths to the corner office, how can business lean in?”

And young career women reading the arguments seem to find it all confusing. “The bashing is unsurprising,” wrote Colleen Leahy on, “as it’s become something of a trend to tear apart powerful corporate females in an attempt to promote the women’s movement. (See guys, we are confusing!)”

Well, no, not really. The bashing has come because when you boil down Sandberg’s argument it really sounds like: “Try harder.” “Be tougher.” “Don’t give up.” And to a generation of women who have been burning the candle at both ends to achieve the Holy Grail of professional and personal fulfillment, that feels insulting.

Every working woman I have known for the past 20 years is justifiably exhausted.

Others are more cryptic, ambiguous with their critique, referring to the ubiquitous word in the English language, the all-purpose “fuck,” as in “Shut the fuck up, Sandberg.” And these critiques are saying what I have been feeling, that it’s not financially worth it for women to beat their heads against a wall to make half of what men make, and I am not alone. Not many women want the corporate world that Sandberg suggestively taunts. In fact, Sandberg’s book may have fallen on deaf ears for everyone except the white male corporate executive singing to himself: “See, I told you so. I thought so all along–women don’t work as hard as men.” This might be joined by other men who give high fives and join one another for rousingly  lonely drinks at a local bar to boast to one another about deals gone well in an attempt to mimic fraternal bromance. In other words, what Sandberg says reflects her ignorance, and her lack of knowledge about what women really want; for all that, she might as well be the high-fiving bromance dude:

High-profile female executives should save their breath and their advice – Millennial women aren’t buying what they’re selling.

Only 20% of Gen Y women say that they want to follow in the footsteps of the female leaders in their workplaces, says new research from Bentley University. The survey of 1000 college-educated Millennials found that while 84% of respondents said that they could identify at least one female leader at their job, most didn’t want to emulate her career path.

This rejection of the current iteration of female corporate achievement also extends to attitudes toward mentorship; only 5.5% of respondents claimed that a colleague, supervisor or role model was their primary source of career cheerleading, with spouses/partners or parents much more likely to be identified as key career supporters. And only 25% of Millennials of both genders give credit to a manager or supervisor for encouraging them to assume a leadership role at work…

And indeed, her research points to Millennials who are willing to make certain concessions for on-the-job advancement – for example, 84% would agree to a take a lateral move to gain beneficial work experience and 69% would be willing to travel frequently for work – but who also prioritize the intrinsic satisfaction they expect their careers to provide over the bottom line, with 84% claiming knowing that they’re making a difference in the world is more important to them than professional recognition and 79% rating a positive work environment as more important than the size of their pay check.

The research also highlights a breakdown in how corporate leaders are providing guidance and support to female subordinates and how these Millennial subordinates are receiving their overtures and the tangible effects this support has on career development. Only 35% of female survey respondents said they “often” received positive recognition at work, with women more likely to receive verbal praise and men more than twice as likely to say they received recognition in the form of financial compensation and almost twice as likely as women to say they received promotions or special assignments as a form of positive recognition. These findings echo research conducted by Catalyst in 2010 that found that not only did mentored men win more promotions than women, their promotions came with greater financial compensation – 21% increases to women’s 2%. Catalyst’s research also found that mentoring alone was not sufficient to close the gender wage gap between high-performing white collar workers.

Hmm, 2% for women to 21% for men–in what business world does this even come close to making financial sense for women to follow this path? How does “lean in” and “suggestively rub your breasts on his arm” close the gap for women who could sell out to make only a 2% raise to a man’s 21% raise?

For myself, I bowed out of the corporate world a long time ago. My partner and I completed an experiment when I was just out of undergrad, and he was just out of grad school, and we went to staffing agency to apply for the exact same temp jobs. What we found: I was offered low-end secretarial work, and he was offered jobs that were entry level business or marketing jobs, no matter which qualifications we put down to begin with, even if we put down equal qualifications. When I went to another state and did the same thing, I was assigned a secretarial job at a stock broker’s office. I asked if I would ever move up from secretary, because they had also just hired another young man my age, with the same qualifications, and their answer: “no.” I quickly realized that the corporate world could not match my intelligence with a pay-out.  Whenever I have taken a W-2 job, I have cut my income in half. By freelancing, I double my income. Those numbers, can’t argue with.  So, I say to Ms.Sanberg, as soon as you close that pay gap, Ms. Sandberg, maybe women will be willing to put in more hours, but until then, perhaps you could just entitle your book:”How to Please the Old White Man’s Club: Lean In and Rub…” (Oh, and call it a business manual, would you, please??? We wouldn’t want people to think you’re suggesting women prostitute themselves for any less than those boobies are worth!)


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