WASHINGTON – The dilemma about “having it all” has been a staple of the women’s movement for the past 50 years. This debate was revived Thursday, when five prominent women discussed the new lean-in debate.
Stemming from Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” the debate has generated a buzz between those who see it as the latest relevant advice for professional women and its critics.
Sandberg argues that women sometimes derail their own careers by not being forceful enough in the face of sexism. She also suggests that women form Lean In groups to support each other. Some critics say the book ignores women in lower-paying jobs.
The event, organized by the Independent Women’s Forum, featured five women who have been at the center of the debate for years: Washington Post writer and moderator of the paper’s On Faith section, Sally Quinn; writer and senior editor atthe New Atlantis, Christine Rosen; senior editor of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin; and executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, Sabrina Schaeffer. Elizabeth MacDonald, FOX Business Network journalist, was the the moderator.
The women discussed the relevance of the lean-in debate by sharing their thoughts and personal experiences.
“Sheryl Sandberg said that she wanted to start a new movement, that she wanted to start a revolution or a debate,” Quinn said. “And I don’t see a revolution; I don’t see a new movement.”
Quinn, who wrote an article for the Washington Post’s Style section in March about Sandberg’s book, personifies one side of the debate, arguing that the lean-in movement is focused around the same issues that have plagued working women for years and therefore does not provide a new discussion.
Hanna Rosin, whose book, “The End of Men and the Rise of Women,” explores similar topics, had a different view of the book and the feminist movement in general.
“Maybe this is a moment when you needed Sheryl Sandberg to say, ‘Negotiate your damn salary,’” Rosin said to the more than 300 people in the audience, most of them women.
Women in the audience found some of Sandberg’s advice useful to them.
Carolyn Mertes, 28, of Arlington, Va., found Sandberg’s book meaningful, specifically to her career as an Internet technology consultant.
“Particularly, timing for me was the series of small decisions you kind of make on a subconscious level,” Mertes said, referring to a part in Sandberg’s book in which she says some women do not aim for higher-level positions and instead plan to have time for family, sometimes without even realizing they are limiting themselves.
“That’s the point I found the timeliest, preparing for something that hasn’t happened yet,” said Erin Potter, 26, also from Arlington, Va., the internal management control account manager at SAIC.
Over-preparing for a distant future, Sandberg argues, is a way in which women sabotage themselves. Panelist Christine Rosen agreed.
“They start planning their future when they are still in their present. Our lives never end up the way we think they are going to, so you can plan, but up to a point,” she said.
Quinn reinforced that point.
“The idea of having it all is ridiculous. It just doesn’t all work together all the time at the same time,” Quinn said.
Quinn painted a picture of how plans are sometimes derailed, using personal stories about her son Quinn Bradlee’s 16-year health struggles and learning disability, her mother’s illness and her husband Ben Bradlee’s recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Bradlee, 91, was the top editor at the Washington Post for 23 years and supervised the paper’s Watergate coverage.
“I had a lot of things happen in my life that I hadn’t planned,” Quinn said. “It’s great to say ‘lean in,’ but guess what, real life gets in the way. So you have to take that into consideration.”