Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg starts her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by recounting the moment she first realised that pregnant women needed reserved parking. After having to park a good distance away from the entrance of her previous company Google, she had to run as fast as one with morning sickness could to make it in time for a client meeting. The following day, she stormed in to see founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and demanded designated parking for expectant mothers. They agreed and that’s when she learnt that “having one pregnant woman at the top… made the difference.”
I read her book at an appropriate time–being 6 months pregnant myself and smack in the middle of pursuing a position of leadership in the creative industry. Like many other women who love what they do, I was scared of what having a family would mean for my career.
After watching Sandberg’s TED Talk titled Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders and her speech to Harvard Business School’s graduating class of 2012, I had developed a serious career-crush on this woman. She stated over and over again her belief that the world would be a better place if half the companies and countries were run by women. Having spent seven years in a male-dominated industry, I couldn’t agree with her more.
In Lean In, Sandberg is honest about making mistakes such as not negotiating for higher pay when she deserved it, and shares how she feels bad about leaving work at five-thirty every evening to be with her kids. As a soon-to-be working mum myself, I could already relate to this feeling of guilt.
“Making your Partner a Real Partner” was the chapter I found to be full of practical advice; no other book on my pre-baby reading list came close to addressing the issues covered in that chapter. “As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home… Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal,” writes Sandberg, as she encourages men to lean into their families. A fifty-fifty partnership means more than just changing half the diapers–in the studies she cites, when fathers were more involved in the routine of caring for their child, it resulted in higher levels of achievement all around. As I discussed this with my own husband, he quickly agreed to adopt the theory of sitting more at the kitchen table, and to the equal division of labour when it came to childcare. Sandberg thus believes that the most important career decision for a woman is her choice of a life partner. I don’t think that the average young woman views her potential partner through the lens of her career, but if she is to have a fighting chance in the workplace, she will absolutely need to do this.
Whether or not Lean In is a feminist manifesto, it is surprising that given the number of women in the workforce today, it took so long for a book like this to be written and published. In a speech to Barnard College, an all-women’s liberal arts school in New York City, Sandberg challenged women to ask themselves: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” Answering for herself, she said, “Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid.” As for me, it took me a couple of days to come up with an answer. It wasn’t because I couldn’t think of anything, but rather, there were so many things I would do if I weren’t afraid, so it was hard to pick just one. In the end, I decided I wanted to be a Pregnant Woman At The Top. Well, not literally, as I won’t be pregnant for much longer. But I certainly want to be in a position someday where I would be able to help more women have the career they want, and be a mother at the same time. So what would I do if I weren’t afraid? I would stop letting the fact that I’m going to have a baby hold me back from aiming for the top.
Michelle Lim-Chua is a banana born in New York City, who fell in love with a boy from Melaka and became a mama of one.