An Afternoon Reading Sheryl Sandberg

Yesterday morning, my trainer, Rose, loaned me her copy of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I had first been introduced to this book by Materfamilias and had only just read some of her impressions of the book. In Lean In, Sandberg, the COO of Facebook talks about how well-educated women have not reached the top positions of Fortune 500 Companies in America.

Today's women, who are better educated than ever before, are under-represented in leadership roles in business and in government. One of the reasons for this underrepresentation, according to Sandberg is that we undervalue our potential and our worth. While a man applies for a job for which he is 60% qualified, a woman will hesitate to apply for the same job unless she feels 100% qualified. Sandberg asserts that women's undervaluation of their own potential leads to weaker negotiation with employers.
Women can not play a 50% role in the power structure until their partners play a 50% role in the home. Most of what Sandberg says, makes complete sense to me when I consider my personal circumstances.

Ironically, I have my own very different table story that my mother used to tell about La Petite Mademoiselle (c'est moi). I was such a polite well-behaved little child, that I would never touch or ask for any treats on the coffee table when I was visiting. Once I didn't eat my cake at a children's party because I had no fork. I was polite and "knew my place." As a bright girl, I didn't raise my hand for fear that people would consider me "a know-it-all." Although I was a scholarship winner, I was devastated at having to "go into the draw" for a grad date. I probably would have traded my high grades for any boyfriend. I am not embarrassed or ashamed of this time of my life because I really did not know anything else. Had I been born in 1969 as Sandberg was, my outlook would have been different.

When I married in 1974, young women did not have the same sexual freedom as they did 20 years later. It was expected that if a young man and woman had a committed relationship for a period of time that they would marry. A responsible young man knew that he would be the principal breadwinner and so focussed on career while his young wife worked outside the home until the children were born. I worked as a bank teller and was overjoyed when my daughter was born after 10 months of marriage. Certainly, career, nannies or husband's participation in the household were the furthest things from my mind!

I accept that the choices that I made at this time were not the best ones for me personally or professionally but they were the choices that I knew how to make. I read Betty Friedan and I experienced the discomfort of a life that didn't feel right. At 34, I chose to leave that life and started a different one. Sometimes, when I hear of a 39th anniversary, I feel a little sad for the life that I left and I would have enjoyed having more children. But I have accomplished some other professional and personal goals. Sandberg clearly states that we can not have it all. Nobody can. Her daughter cries when mummy leaves just like any other child.

As the women's movement (really the people's movement) is more established, younger women are able to make more informed decisions about their lives. I can't go back to the 70's and change history.
But tomorrow, I will be celebrating the birthday of my 38 year-old daughter who leads an independent life on her own terms.


  1. Thanks for this honest and moving post, one which I relate to so strongly. I chose to stay home from the grad prom, not willing to put my name in the exchange, not having a date of my own -- it is, at some strange hidden inner core, still a source of embarrassment, perhaps even of shame.
    Luckily, I had a father who always helped with the domestic, so I expected my husband to do the same, but still, I deferred to his career as it was the one that could earn the best salary at the time and childcare was tough to imagine or find. I'm going to write more about this soon, but it sounds as if we have so much in common. I often think how lucky I have been that I did have a partner who was willing and able to follow the changes I needed to make so that we could have that 39th. I can imagine how sad you must occasionally become that you didn't have that same luck. But how self-congratulatory you should be that you went for the more you knew you needed and deserved. The conversation continues. . . . Happy Birthday to your daughter!


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