For my money, the recent video of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, should be mandatory viewing for all women and girls. (Hat tip: Slate’s XX Factor blog.) Polished yet self-deprecating, Sandberg is absolutely spot-on in her remarks about the dearth of women in leadership positions, and what women should do to fix the problem.
Sandberg highlights three factors that derail women's careers. You probably know the first two already:
1. Women don't sit at the table--quite literally. Instead of taking a central seat at the conference table, women often sit on the sidelines. To succeed, she says, women need to be prominent--and, more importantly, feel they deserve it.
2. Marriages are not true partnerships. Working women do most of the housework and childcare. Men, she says, need to assume more responsibility on the home front, and society should support them in that endeavor.
But it was Sandberg's third point that really stopped me in my tracks: Women sabotage their own careers because they consciously or unconsciously put the brakes on their jobs. Often young women are so concerned about balancing work and family that they pull back from challenging work--even at the starting gate.
Sandberg recounts how a young woman in her office cornered her to talk about juggling work and children. "She looked a bit young," recalls Sandberg. After a bit of discussion, it turned out that the woman wasn't close to having kids: She was unmarried and didn't even have a boyfriend. Sandberg told her: "You're thinking about this way too early." Her advice: Don't leave before you leave--in other words, don't take yourself out of the game prematurely.
Are young women in law as anxious about balancing work and family as that woman in Sandberg's office? I think so. In the ten years that I've been covering women in the law, I've noticed an increasing concern (maybe obsession) about the issue. This comes not only from associates but also law students. For instance, leaders of Yale Law Women (a student organization that issues its own list of family-friendly firms) tell me that the availability of part-time work is a major factor in their choice of law firms.
Maybe it's a generational shift. When I was a law student in the eighties, the women in my class were preoccupied about landing the most prestigious, highest-paying job they could get--which, more often than not, meant taking positions with high-powered sweatshops. Babies were not on our radar.
Of course, many of us who graduated in the 1980s through the early 1990s didn't stick around those pressure-cooker firms, or have dropped out of law entirely. So arguably, today's young women law students and lawyers are much more savvy about life's realities.
Still, isn't there something a bit kooky about designing careers based on hypothetical conflicts posed by hypothetical children? What do you think?
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