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The Millennial demand for work/life balance: A harbinger of good to come?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013
posted by Rita Handrich

free-2-b-u-and-meUnless you live under a rock, you have heard about the Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) book: Leaning In. She has been in the middle of a media whirlwind for the last few weeks. A couple of weeks ago, I turned the TV on while eating a late lunch and found myself watching the Katie Couric talk show with Sheryl Sandberg and other guests. They were actually talking about research, which is not what I expect to hear on an afternoon talk show! I finished my lunch and sat and watched the rest of the show. Then I went to the TED site to view Sheryl’s TED talk. Then I went to and ordered the audiobook and ordered it in hard copy at Amazon as well. Intriguingly, the printed book is 2/3 text and 1/3 endnotes that offer complete research citations so you can go see ANY research study she discusses.

As I listened, it was clear that what Sheryl was doing was applying the social sciences research to the experience of women at work– her own experience and that of other women. I read a lot in this area so there was no particularly new research for me, but what was new was the way she brought that research to life by talking about how it made sense in her own life and in the lives of relatives and friends and women who’d written to her after they watched her TED talk. It wasn’t so much informative as it was meaningful.

I came of age in the late 70s and in the midst of the Free To Be You and Me heyday. I attended graduate school in the early 1980s and remember feeling as though women were on the cusp of change. I learned about generic he’s and the salary gap and women and our relationship to power. I was ready and I waited for things to change. And someplace along the way, the “change” we waited for never really came. So I am cheering Sheryl Sandberg. She is 11 years younger than I am and a Gen Xer. And she is saying things that make perfect sense to me although she is saying they won’t really come to pass for another generation. Which is both sad and, at this stage of my life, hopeful in an odd sort of way.

The original idea of societal hierarchical change making a place for women to step into in the workplace has not come to fruition. What Sheryl is saying is that we can’t keep waiting for that veritable Godot–we have to recognize our own internal obstacles and the way we shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly and lean in to our goals and not sit back and wait to be invited.

If we choose to have children, we need to choose partners that support our careers and not partners who expect us to only support theirs.

We need to stop calling our girl children “bossy” and our boy children “leaders”.

We need to remain engaged in work and step up to new opportunities even while deciding (if we so decide) to have children.

When we turn down opportunities because it would be hard, sometime down the road, to do that job and have a family–we make ourselves more likely to choose not to return to work after our children are born. If, that is, we are fortunate enough to have that choice.

Reviewers either love her or hate her. In the book Sheryl says, “if a man had written this book he would be pilloried”. Absolutely. And she has been pilloried a few times herself by readers who (in my opinion) have misinterpreted her message (or perhaps have not actually read the book). But it’s a message long overdue and one all of us (male and female) can benefit from reading.

This book is a wonderfully approachable synthesis of the research on gender bias. She focuses on societal obstacles as well as internal obstacles to success and leadership in women. But it’s also an allegory of sorts on multiple isms out there. If you listen [ahem, read] her book with an ear to race, age, disability, sexual orientation, and other protected categories–it is truly an amazing accomplishment. This is an approachable, easy listening, non-threatening and informative plain language but intelligent book. Given the prevalence of bias in the work of litigation advocacy, in forms both obvious and subtle, this book is a wonderful one for both women and men. It will give you new ways to frame very familiar scenarios, ideas on how to talk about sensitive issues in the workplace, strategies to change the world one interaction at a time, and a very different understanding of what the younger generation’s demand for work/life balance could mean for generations to come. (Hint: It is very likely a very good thing when it comes to all of our work and personal lives.)

So, is this blog post about litigation, persuasion, and trial advocacy? Of course. The evolution of social justice, equity, and the American culture is the fuel for everything that happens in a courtroom. And, as an aside, maybe Sheryl is wrong about it taking another generation for equity to come to pass. No one could have envisioned the speed at which marriage equality has gone from being a ‘wedge issue’ to a mainstream value. What’s clear is that it won’t happen without focused and persistent attention.

Sheryl Sandberg (2013). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Knopf Publishing.


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