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As Per Sheryl Sandberg's Request, a Male Opinion About 'Lean In'

In a recent interview about her book, Sheryl Sandberg calls on men to 'lean in' when it comes to the discussion about women in the workplace. So that's what I'm doing: providing a male voice.

March 22, 2013
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Values, Diversity, Ethics, Strategic Planning, Retirement Planning
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Ed Frauenheim is on assignment.

There's been a lot of chatter regarding Sheryl Sandberg's new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Many people have expressed opinions supporting Sandberg's manifesto, and plenty of dissenting opinions have been expressed as well.

In an interview with CNN, Sandberg said what she thinks the most interesting thing about the larger dialogue she's started with her book is the relative lack of a male voice in the conversation.

So that's what I'm doing: providing a male voice.

I haven't read Lean In. However, I watched Sandberg being interviewed about the book, and I've read enough articles to get the gist of it. Plus, I don't think reading Lean In is entirely necessary in order to contribute at a base level since the book's simply the result of the much larger topic of women in the workplace and the even larger issue of women's rights in general.

So with that, I'll start by saying it's absolutely vital for men to be involved in the conversation. Feminism, women's rights, isn't gender-exclusive. In my own interpretation of the ideology, it's a commitment to equality among all human beings. And as such it requires both sexes to contribute to the dialogue if any progress is to be made.

In her book, Sandberg, who is the COO at Facebook, calls on men to "lean in" when it comes to helping at home, to take up a more equal role in the domestic sphere. Rebecca J. Rosen writing for the Atlantic agrees with this idea but also argues men should lean in at work too for the simple reason that they still wield a disproportionate amount of power in the workplace. For the typical white male holding a private sector job, nearly seventy percent of his co-workers at a similar level his organization are also white males. With this amount of leverage, men (especially white men) who dislike inequality just as much as women do are in a position to help facilitate actual change.

But what people seem to be reacting against most is Sandberg's idea that individual women need to overcome their own internal obstacles—that such an argument is one that comes from a special place of privilege and is much easier said than done, simply because "internal obstacles" will vary with each individual. Plus, when you're a white billionaire from a privileged background, overcoming internal obstacles is more than likely a very easy thing to do. I agree with this criticism of Lean In as elitist. Sandberg doesn't really account for regular women with regular problems, and how they may not make "leaning in" at work their most important priority. Just trying to get through the workday may be the top priority more often than not when you've got a million other things to worry about at home.

All criticism aside though, as I said above, Sandberg's book has people talking. And even if there isn't a consensus among the different groups of people who recognize the importance of improving women's status in the business world, there are now plenty of ideas about how to do it being discussed. To me, that can really only yield positive result for everyone. To offer another male voice to the conversation, I'll quote Henry Rollins, punk rock legend, from his recent short essay about the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case: "Things get better when women get more equality. That is a bit obvious but I think it leads to better results up the road."

Max Mihelich is Workforce's editorial intern. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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