Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lean In For Men

It may surprise my readers to hear that I was thrilled to score a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.   After all, I am the politically incorrect (ex) social worker who posted, The Oppression of Men.  Sheryl’s book has been widely acclaimed and had created quite a buzz in the business community.  My readers may be further shocked to hear that I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and perhaps even more shocking would remark that I agree with almost all of what she has written.  Before you begin to think this is going to just be a nod and grunt posting, please recall that this is “My Turn Quips” so any nodding and grunting you read here is likely to be a bit atypical.

First let me vent about one of my biggest peeves when it comes to discussing gender issues and that is the concept of “equality”.  In my old fart world equality means “sameness” such as one plus one equals two.  Clearly, this word has grown to take on a much wider meaning and therein is the essence of much passionate discussion.  In the discussion of gender equality, “fairness” is an appropriate synonym to apply; however, what is fair is often elusive.

Sheryl devotes a chapter to “Seek and Speak Your Truth”.   Lean In is an extremely well written, well researched book advocating greater inclusion of women in the business community.  Its truth is the truth of a very successful female executive.  The truth of middle class female will likely be a bit different; the truth of this middle class male is different.  Yet all these truths are valid.

In my truth, I would focus on the barriers that men face.  Sheryl provides an analogy of careers being like a marathon where men are systematically cheered on and females are encouraged to drop out.  In my truth, I see men being flogged to completion rather than cheered to completion.  Much as Sheryl describes the negative perceptions of women who succeed in careers, I assure you that there are as many negative perceptions of men who do not succeed in careers.  (They are called, "losers").  When someone references that “he is a stay at home dad,” it is often accompanied by a roll of the eyes, a questioning smile and perhaps an outright snicker.  And if things don’t work out, there continues to be a gender bias in establishing custody of children.

Lean In is well researched and I appreciated the well documented citations and I am one of those rare readers who peruse the citations.  Most of us either identify ourselves as either male or female.  An interesting note in regards to gender research is that it is difficult to say any research is completely without bias or without some notion of a preconceived agenda due to the gender(s) of those conducting the study.  Unsurprisingly, the majority of citations in Lean In are from female researchers and in other cases I spotted a male name having the same last name as a female researcher (suggesting a relationship between male and female researcher).  As an oppressed male, one of my favorite citations was on p. 190, Clearfield & Nelson "Sex Differences in Mother's Speech and Play Behavior with 6, 9 and 14-Month-Old Infants" which stated:
Studies have found that parents tend to talk more with daughters than with sons.  Further, mothers have more emotionally complex conversations and use a more conversational and supportive style of communications with their daughters than with their sons.
Hmm, I've often thought the women that I've observed are more linguistically skilled than their male counterparts.  In speaking their own truth perhaps men may feel that if they are consuming the last lollipop of greater career success, women have consumed the lollipop of greater domestic success.  I would like to see a “Lean In For Men” sequel to this book to discuss some of the many areas of male oppression.  (I use the term, "oppression" with a great deal of humor as in speaking my truth, who is oppressed and who is not is the truth as viewed through the lens of the beholder.  If pushed for my truth, I would have to confess that my perspective is much closer to Sheryl's than I would like to admit.  I don't believe the "oppression" model works for either gender; rather, a dialogue is sorely needed between the genders to address these perceptions head on.)

I am still stunned that I enjoyed Sheryl’s book.  I appreciated that Sheryl was very cognizant that there is more than one perspective in this discussion and further that both men and women need to be involved in the discussion.  In addition to the expected advocacy for women in business, there is much business wisdom to be gleaned.  I particularly enjoyed the “Are You My Mentor?” chapter.  Our organization had implemented mandatory mentoring at one time.   As one can imagine from my spiel about “equality,” I sometimes get hung up on semantics.  In my world, mentoring is aligned much as Sheryl describes whereby there is a symbiotic relationship that develops between the individuals involved.  This cannot be achieved by mandates.  In all actuality what had been implemented in our organization was not mentoring, but rather a mandatory training track.  Mentoring just happened to be the trendy buzz word that needed to be applied so that we can say we did it.

The evil doer in me says, “Well done, Sheryl… not bad for a girl,” but instead I will say with all sincerity, “Well done, Sheryl… you’re a great writer (period).

Happy Father’s Day to all you oppressed men out there.