“Sandberg makes it seem like the measure of success for women is ambition,” said Hanna Rosin, senior editor of The Atlantic and author of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, at a panel discussion on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. “That story invalidates the woman’s prerogative,” she continued at an event hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington last week.

According to the IWF, Sandberg’s book “is the latest in a recent onslaught of advice to women on how to make it to the top and has reignited the perennial issue of work-life balance.” The panel, which consisted of Rosin and other female journalists and thought-leaders on both sides of the aisle, seemed to agree that Sandberg’s message, that women need to “lean in” and push their way to the top, may not apply to all women.

“I agree that Sandberg is out of touch in thinking that all women want to be Sandberg,” said Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, who was also on the panel. “There’s a whole tapestry of women out there. Only 23% of married mothers say they prefer working full time.”

The members of the panel seemed to agree that Lean In does have a powerful place in American society at this point in time. “All the stuff about the workplace was helpful, demanding a seat at the table and having the confidence to ask for a raise,” said Sally Quinn, long-time journalist at the Washington Post and editor of the publication’s faith section, who also caveats the message with her own life experiences. “It’s great to lean in, but life gets in the way.”

We have to take this as a business advice book,” said Schaeffer, referring to the panel’s agreement that the book “falls down” when it comes to family advice.

So what can employers do in response to some women wanting to lean in? “I think we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of allowing government to help us navigate this complicated relationship,” said Schaeffer. “While very well intentioned, I think laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act and efforts to expand FMLA actually make the workplace less flexible and actually make things harder for employers and employees to negotiate instead of allowing them to freely enter into contracts that fit both of their needs.”

 

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