'Lean In': Sheryl Sandberg's privileged manifesto

Intended to encourage women in the workplace, the super-successful Sandberg seems ignorant of the reality of a non-rich life

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Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" is a feminist discussion of the privilege of men by the most privileged of women.

The book is a spin from the Facebook chief operating officer's 15-minute TEDtalk about how women, if they stay engaged in the workforce up to the very minute they go into labor, will have more to go back to when they go back to work.

Her main message is: Don't ease up on your career before you have to back out, take a place at the table instead of sitting on the side of the room (both literally and figuratively), and make sure your partner is doing an equal share at home. That's all fine.


By Sheryl Sandberg
Knopf ($24.95).

But "Lean In" is more than just a plea for women to stay engaged. It is also partly a memoir: the story of how a young woman rose from her upper-middle-class upbringing as a doctor's daughter with a stay-at-home mom to attend Harvard and subsequently rise to the upper 0.1 percent.

It takes about 100 pages for the book to get away from the basic message of her TEDTalk and into the filler of how she made her career work.

My favorite story of how rank has its privilege, and the little people be damned, is on Page 110 in the discussion of how Ms. Sandberg and her husband, Dave Goldberg, had a commuter marriage when their son was born. For the first year, Mr. Goldberg would fly back and forth from Los Angeles, where he worked for Yahoo, to Northern California, where she had a job she loved at Google. It was hell!

When the boy was about a year old, Mr. Goldberg found the perfect job as CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Survey Monkey and moved the company to San Francisco Bay Area so he could live with his wife. Problem solved -- at least for the Sandberg-Goldberg family.

Unmentioned are the employees of Survey Monkey, who saw their corporate headquarters move to a city with a much higher cost of living. But fiddle-dee-dee, that is not her concern.

Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Goldberg have a true partnership: He pays the bills, handles the finances and provides tech support for the household computers. She arranges the children's schedules and plans birthday parties.

There is no mention of cooking, cleaning, laundry or mowing the grass, so one can assume that those chores are handled by people who are leaning in to scrub pots for her family, but they aren't mentioned in the acknowledgements. She thanks Oprah and Arianna Huffington, but with her own salary of $295,000 and total compensation of $30 million last year, why thank the nanny, the gardener or the maid?

Ms. Sandberg makes her engagement in parenting clear in her TEDtalk, first when she describes her 3-year-old daughter at preschool doing "that whole hugging the leg crying 'mommy don't get on that plane' thing," which discounts her child's experience by calling it a "thing." Then minutes later, she describes herself as the parent of two children, ages 5 and 2 -- forgetting the age of her own child!

In the book, her decision to go back to work was based on whether it was the right choice for her. What was truly best for her children is not discussed except the research into the effects of child care on children.

There has been much praise for Ms. Sandberg's book, which was researched by a team and written with Nell Scovell (whose name is on the inside cover). But it has mostly come from those with equally fabulous high-paying careers who do not come home to a pile of laundry and a dirty house.

Most Americans don't have the "choice" to leave work at 5:30 to get home to have dinner with our families. Instead it is a necessity that we leave at 5:30 because childcare ends at 6 and then we have to make dinner for our families.

"Lean In" offers nothing for the rest of us but a firmer knowledge that life is easier if you have unmentioned help.

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Ann Belser is a staff writer in the Post-Gazette Business section (abelser@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1699).


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