Work, Family and Leaning In
Like many working mothers, I have been greatly intrigued by Lean In, the book by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who is generally viewed as the most prominent female in business today. I admire Sandberg for sharing her real struggles to integrate family demands with a hugely dynamic career. However, I must admit to feeling a bit more empathy for Anne-Marie Slaughter, who authored an even more provocative, but lesser known article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” that addressed many of the same themes. Collectively, these women have raised important concerns and difficult questions for working parents. It’s no wonder why so many professional women I know, from business school and Truepoint’s Women’s Wealth Counsel, find themselves talking about these issues and these women.
When I first watched Sandberg’s TED Talk in 2010, which set up the book, I felt her message was a bit too aggressive. Must every talented woman aspire to become a captain of industry? Is becoming a top executive always the end goal for capable working mothers? When I read the book, however, I was more impressed with her honesty and vulnerability. I did not feel she was telling her readers how to live their lives or run their careers. I particularly appreciated her viewpoint on successful leadership. Her insight here is that women may have a natural leadership advantage in terms of being authentic and in touch with their emotions, as opposed to their male counterparts, who sometimes lack the emotional component.
The title of Slaughter’s piece speaks directly to the conflict many women feel. She is clear about her audience: “highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place – we have choices about the type and tempo of the work we do. We are the women who could be leading, and who should be equally represented in the leadership ranks.”
Slaughter, formerly a high-ranking State Department official, felt compelled to return home in 2011 after her two-year public-service leave from Princeton had expired. She returned to her position at Princeton as Professor of Politics and International Affairs so that she could be closer to her 14-year-old-son, who needed more of her presence and attention. She had concluded that “juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.”
My takeaway from Slaughter’s article is that achieving work-life balance, which conventional wisdom tells us should be the ultimate goal, is incredibly hard. That’s because extreme demands – at home or work – arise so frequently that balance itself is likely not a realistic goal. Slaughter’s experience suggests that juggling is often the best you can do. Interestingly, since Slaughter left the State Department, which many had criticized as a terrible signal to younger generations of women, she could arguably be considered a more influential leader than before she wrote her article.
Reading Sandberg and Slaughter has made me an admirer of these women. I certainly appreciate their commitment to advancing the conversation. And it’s made me more appreciative of my employer’s recognition of the unique demands faced by all its employees – parents and non-parents alike. Indeed, Truepoint continues to innovate in terms of empowering and supporting everybody on the team to progress professionally and do what they need to meet their commitments outside the office. Truepoint understands that the most successful, fulfilling lives are built both at home and at work.
Many of the themes raised by Sandberg also play out with Truepoint clients. We see an increasing number of talented women building significant wealth and, therefore, seeking advisory services. Meanwhile, female spouses of wealth creators are taking a larger interest in family financial matters. Then there are the widows and divorcees who may face important and complex financial questions for the first time. Truepoint’s Women’s Wealth Counsel was created specifically to support and facilitate productive conversations among these women who are “leaning in” to the management of their personal finances.
We often find that female clients are focused on family legacies and multi-generational wealth transfer – a natural extension of caring for their children and grandchildren. It’s interesting to think about how Sandberg and Slaughter might address some of these same questions in the future. I suspect they will encourage their children to be all they can be, and not be stymied by any perceived glass ceiling; however, I also think they will be candid about the challenges in integrating family and career.
Clearly, more women today hold corporate leadership positions than in previous generations. But I agree with Sandberg that there is more progress to be made. “If society truly valued the work of caring for children,” she writes, “companies and institutions would find ways to … help parents combine career and family responsibilities.” Still, many organizations, like Truepoint, understand it in ways that yesterday’s companies simply didn’t. I am very grateful for that, but also recognize that having it all may be too much to ask on any given day.