Thursday, 19 September 2013

Lean in

I struggle with the concept of having it all.  Fuzzily defined for the modern woman as having (1) a personally fulfilling and financially rewarding career, (2) at least one healthy socially well-adjusted child who is a genius in art/music/math/whatever, preferably all of the above and (3) a stable monogamous relationship with a partner who actively enables (1) and (2).  Now I do not know about you, dear reader, but to do all of that, I would need to double… possibly triple… the waking hours of my day.

Along comes Sheryl Sandberg, COO and later CEO of Facebook, successful corporate woman worth pots of money, mother to 2 children, and now author of a book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to lead”.  From Wikipedia:  Lean In is a book for professional women to help them achieve their career goals and for men who want to contribute to a more equitable society. The book looks at the barriers preventing women from taking leadership roles in the workplace, barriers such as discrimination, blatant and subtle sexism and sexual harassment. She also examines societal barriers such as the fact that women still work the double day and the devaluing of work inside the home as opposed to work outside the home. Along with the latter there are the barriers that women create for themselves through internalizing systematic discrimination and societal gender roles. Sandberg argues that in order for change to happen women need to break down these societal and personal barriers by striving for and achieving leadership roles. The ultimate goal is to encourage women to lean in to positions of leadership because she asserts that by having more female voices in positions of power there will be more equitable opportunities created for everyone.

Oh…… my first reaction is visceral, I tell you.  I want to retch at how perfect she is!

Then I stopped and thought for a bit about her concepts.  All good in theory… how can I put those into practice? Her book is aimed at the professional woman who presumably is able to choose how much, when and where to work.  Hey, that’s me!

How much to work?  I hardly know anyone who works in a corporate setting in Singapore at an executive / manager / C-suite level who works the “normal” 8 hour work day.  Far more than 8 hours is the norm.  At peak period levels, I have put in 14-16 hours of work per day… couldn’t sustain that level for anything more than a week after I had Medium Boy and Small Boy. 

When to work?  The company is very enlightened in that most managers allow their staff to work to deliver tasks, not put in face time in the office from 9am to 6pm, spending the last hour watching the clock… or social networking… or plain old coffee / hallway networking.  All my bosses in this company have also pushed me to take time off (to make up for 14 hour work days) during lull periods.  Travel is done during normal office hours from Monday to Friday… I am not expected to be on the plane during Saturday or Sunday.  MOST companies in SG are not like this.

Where to work? For the past 5 years, I was in a virtual role with a boss based in the UK.   I spent 75% of my week in the office after Medium Boy’s birth and reduced that to 10% after Small Boy’s birth.  Yes, I could and did choose to work from home.  This is only possible because the people I collaborate with are not in SG anyway, and my work is not a high-touch job (like a teacher or a doctor).  I changed department from 1 Mar 2013 and have to be in the office everyday now.  The transition made me more visible.  I am now back in circulation, listening to the grapevine news, determining which way the wind is blowing.  Leaning in MORE at work.

As long as women are still expected to work the double day…. Putting in time at home managing the house, being the primary decision maker (and implementer) when it comes to educating the children… there is practically zero time or brain space for a woman to lean in at work.   When I look critically at my own home….The Husband does his share.  Is it a 50-50 share? Not when I sit down and tabulate what he does vs what I do at home.  [Note: yes, I do more than 50%]  Is he refusing to lean in at home, or am I reluctant to lean out at home?  I do not know.  A mixture of both, I reckon.  Hence am I bowing to societal and personal barriers of what a woman should be?

Postscript: I finished this post in the middle of my night.  Just had to get this off my mind!

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