The San Francisco Chronicle recently had an interesting piece on Facebook‘s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg. Named Forbes magazine 5th most powerful woman in the world… …and Fortune‘s 12th most powerful women in business, Stanford leadership/organizational behavior professor Deborah Gruenfeld says Sandberg has become “a symbol of a new wave of feminism.” Take a closer look.
Gruenfeld explains this new wave as one in which women can finally “own their own power by just being women, where you don’t have to see that as totally incompatible. You can be feminine and be a totally powerful person.” And part of that power comes from figuring out how to manage one’s professional and personal life.
Sandberg has been able to that–she manages her professional life with the raising of two children, and believes that “sharing leadership starts in the home,” with the splitting of domestic side of family life. She has a 50-50 partnership with her husband, Dave Goldberg, CEO of Survey Monkey, and that this is key to seeing more gender equality in the workplace. Sandberg thinks it “starts with parity in the division of labor at home, “because wives who shoulder more of the burden of child care and housework than their husbands are more likely to lower their professional ambitions or drop out of the workforce altogether.”
Now parity of division of labor leading to more women in powerful business positions would mark some real change. I like how she advises women to “choose their life partners wisely, to make sure they will be supportive of their professional careers.”
However, when Sandberg talks about how a woman should manage her career, she as a symbol of change comes up short — for me anyway. She advises women to keep striving for jobs they will love “especially before they have children.” She also says to “keep your foot the gas pedal until the very day you need to leave to “take a break for a child.”
This kind of advice reflects the pronatalist assumption that women will at some point have a child. What would be a sign of real new wave symbol is if she gave the above advice, sure, but also and first the advice to think about whether you want to have children at all, and if you don’t want them, that’s a completely legitimate choice.
It will be sign of real change when women in powerful positions like Sandberg speak from the clear mentality that motherhood is optional, and does not have to be part of “having it all.” “All” can mean many things, not just balancing work inside and outside the home.
A woman quoted in the article says, “Thankfully, there are women like Sheryl who show I can do this while still having a very fulfilling personal life.” It will be a real sign of change when female leaders like Sandberg promote the reality that a “very fulfilling personal life” can include motherhood, but does not necessarily have to.
What powerful women do you know of who have clearly spoken to this reality? I don’t mean that they have said they are not having children, but that they hold this belief?