The New Lean In

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Every once in a while, a book comes along that completely changes your life and the way you think about things.

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter, is that kind of book for me.

When Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In came out, I was an early fan. I read that book like gospel and talked a lot about it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m not really the kind of woman that Sandberg is talking to. I’m never going to be a CEO or an executive – I don’t want to be. A lot of what Sandberg had to say was valid and I learned a lot and consciously tried to change the way I am in my working life but big picture wise – I’m not her girl.

Anne-Marie Slaughter accepted a two year secondment to her dream job: director of policy planning at the US State Department. She worked under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among some of the most incredible people doing work that mattered. But her family, her husband and two sons, were back home in Princeton. Slaughter commuted to Washington, DC Monday morning, returning Friday night. The day-to-day work of running a household and raising the boys fell to her incredibly supportive husband, Andy. But Slaughter herself suffered from immense guilt and missed the flexibility that her old job as a professor of policy at Princeton offered. So after the two years was over, despite being in line for a promotion that would have seen her continue the kind of work she was doing, Slaughter decided to go back to her old job. She made the decision to prioritize her family over her working life.

Right away you can see the difference between the two books: Sandberg encourages women to lean in, despite what may be going on at home. Slaughter argues that there needs to be room for both – that women shouldn’t be penalized for taking time out to care for their children (or their aging parents). It shouldn’t be seen as opting out of a career, or that someone isn’t serious about their work because they have family commitments to uphold.

The other massive difference in Slaughter’s book is that she’s so inclusive. Her book doesn’t just talk to those people that have the ability to pay people to clean their houses and look after their children (although she’s the first to admit that that all helps smooth out the bumps in the road), she talks about those working paycheque to paycheque, those that have such limited hours that if a family emergency comes up they are so screwed. She talks about men that aren’t given the same access to flex times or paternity leaves because it’s not seen as masculine to want to care for your children.

Slaughter also has practical tips for how you can start changing the way you think about care vs career. She encourages you to plan your career (if you can) in a way that makes room for you to care for your family (children or aging relatives) while still moving forward. There are tips for “training” your manager, to have the conversations that are difficult to ensure a better work-life balance while still holding the interests of the team or company in mind. I think the easiest, most practical advice in the book was to change the way you talk. To change the vocabulary associated with work. If someone brags about how much they have been working recently, change the conversation to talk about books or movies – something else. Try not to ask people what they do within 5 minutes of meeting someone.Try describing men in the workforce as “working fathers” or “working parents.” Try avoiding the phrase “stay at home mom” or “stay at home dad” – try “anchor parent” or “full time parent.”

While I was reading this book I texted a number of people telling them that they had to read this book. I want to leave it on the desk of all the managers at my work because I think there is so much in this book that is of value. I want everyone to read it. I’ve already promised my copy to one of my book club peeps.

Honestly, even flipping through this book to write this post (which doesn’t even come close to doing justice to this incredible book) I’m reminded all over how much I got out of it. I’m thisclose to just reading it a second time. And highlighting the whole thing.

PS if you aren’t convinced, maybe give Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic a try first? The article came first and blew up and that’s what inspired the book.

12 thoughts on “The New Lean In

  1. I think I would love everything this woman has to say. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have it all. There needs to be a balance, some things are going to have to be sacrificed to make room for others, etc. And, yes, yes, yes – just because you want to slow down to spend more time with your family doesn’t mean you’ve lost interest or ambition, or that you don’t take your work seriously. Employers need to make their companies flexible to accommodate families. They would end up having much happier and more productive employees. And, the families would be happier, too. Win-win.

  2. I’m so happy you reviewed this book because I need to read it! I’m actually in the process of changing jobs so I can be closer to my kids and be around while they’re still young (and like me). I’m always thinking about work/life balance and talking to other women about it whether they have kids or not.

    • It sounds like you definitely need to read this. There are so many practical tips in this book about how you can better achieve that balance without getting “mommy tracked.” I found it really inclusive too -not just talking to women, but also men who maybe feel pressure to be the breadwinners when they would like to spend more time with their families. And as our parents age, there are going to be other realities we need to contend with. It should be required reading for all management!

  3. Pingback: Better Late Than Never: 2015 in Review | The Paperback Princess

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