This morning I woke up wondering what Sheryl Sandberg must think about Paul Ryan. Politics aside, would Sandberg approve of how Ryan has handled the pressure to run for Speaker of the House? Is he Leaning In? And is there a lesson to be learned?
It’s goes without saying that serving as Speaker is both a privilege and a burden. And for Rep. Ryan, who has already experienced the “on-the-road” campaign lifestyle and media spotlight as a Vice Presidential candidate, one can understand his ambivalence about holding the position.
Listening to Ryan deliberate, however, has made me realize that I – and many working women – still have a lot to learn about getting ahead in the workplace. In fact, Ryan is grappling with a host of anxieties that will sound familiar to any working mother (and probably to a lot of working fathers.)
It’s true we don’t often hear men talk about the challenge of balancing work and home; but Paul Ryan has raised the legitimate concern that his role as Speaker would negatively impact the time he can spend with his family back in Wisconsin. And no doubt it would. Specifically he’s expressed apprehension that his children are at critical ages where they need the attention of both their mother and father, and the additional worry that the media attention could be troublesome.
Certainly there isn’t a working mother out there who can’t relate to this. The reality is there are only 24-hours in a day, and it’s difficult to balance the demands of a high-pressured career and be home in time to have dinner with your family. And while gender feminists will often blame outdated gender roles for this pressure, the reality is that many working women want to be able to embrace their roles as mothers (and wives).
What’s more Ryan is worried that if he does run for Speaker, he’d be taking on the additional stress without the support of the whole party. Another valid concern when one thinks about the factions within the GOP today. And it’s hard to criticize Ryan for hesitating to trade his current lifestyle (which is already pretty exciting) for a far more demanding and at times ugly position, knowing that he doesn’t really have the full backing from his colleagues.
Certainly plenty of women can likely relate to the idea that all the pressure of the workplace – the aggravations of working for an unpleasant boss or coworkers, all while shoveling out more money for childcare – might not seem that appealing. And without the security that day-to-day interactions are going to be at least agreeable, many of us might choose to lean out.
But like so many working mothers Ryan feels conflicted. As he said in a statement yesterday it’s clearly an honor to be considered for the role. And he expressed particular ambivalence about how his children would view him down the road if they thought he turned down the opportunity lead his country in a time of need.
Certainly these are concerns a lot of women I know grapple with on a smaller scale. So often we talk about women’s success in the workplace in terms of “identity integration” and socially constructed gender roles; but sometimes it’s much simpler than that. For many women, the challenge of moving up the corporate ladder isn’t a function of gender bias or fears of social backlash – it’s the same personal ambivalence expressed by Rep. Ryan (and I suspect many men today).
Paul Ryan has some big decisions to make in the coming days. And he might not get everything he wants – most of us don’t. But Paul Ryan has served as a great example by doing something too few of us, especially women, are often willing to do: He’s clearly stated what he wants.
Asking doesn’t necessarily get you what you want, but it makes it more likely women (and men) can strike the work-life balance they desire. And I think Sheryl Sandberg would applaud all of us for that.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum and the mother to three young children