Sheryl Sandberg is as close to the female counterpoint of “everyman” as we could hope for. She graduated Harvard Business School at the top of her class but also worked as an aerobics instructor. She has been employed by the World Bank and Google and in her current position as Chief Operating Officer of Facebook it was her job to take the site from being “really cool” to “making tonnes of money”.
She is also a happily married mother of two and author of the book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. You most likely heard of the book when it was published earlier this year due to Sandberg’s controversial insights into gender roles and observations as to how women hold themselves back in the workplace and in life.
What truly makes Sandberg “everywoman” however is her honesty, in particular about her very normal female insecurities. For example, when she was negotiating her initial package to join Facebook (which happens to include almost $1.5billion worth of shares) she discussed it with her husband and asked for his assistance. In 2011 when she was ranked number 5 on the Forbes Magazine’s Most Powerful Women list (ahead of Michelle Obama, no less), she admits to feeling “embarrassed and exposed” as opposed to feeling powerful or proud.
Among many thought-provoking observations in the book is Sandberg’s concept of marriage as the most important career decision a woman ever makes. She writes:
“I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions.”
Of course – she is right. Marriage is not just a career decision for Trophy Wives and Gold-Diggers. Each and every woman steers her professional life on a certain path the day she chooses her life partner. Your spouse will make a far greater impact on your career than your GPA, the font you used on your resume or which city you are prepared to live in.
Consider, for example, terms of marriage as negotiating points of an employment contract:
At no time will the decision to marry influence your career more than during the fertile years.
For example, if the father of your future children encourages you to raise them at home, your career decision has essentially been made for you, at least for some fairly critical years of progression in your late 20s and 30s.
If the partnership requires the mother to return to work as quickly as possible after childbirth, then you will need to choose an understanding employer with day-care friendly hours or resources even if this may not be in your industry or venue of choice.
Much like some organisations require employees to travel, so do some romantic pairings. If your spouse is involved in either a government or artistic pursuit that requires frequent or extended international pursuits, then what rules apply? Will you be required to follow or are you expected to stay grounded at home and in wait?
If so do you need to retrain or up-skill in an industry so that your-earned skills are transferable? Or will your compensation be cooking classes and cycling tours in a foreign land (one can dream, yes?).
How responsive is your partnership to job-sharing? If someone needs to wait at home for a tradesman or other house-call who is required to re-organise his or her day or take leave? If children or pets are sick or any other emergency arises, are you automatically expected to be “on call”?
Large inner-city offices often provide a warm dinner for those working past 7.30pm. Will you be extended these same benefits in your marital package?
Some tips to help you manage your career and love life:
Division of Labour
Sheryl Sandberg’s answer is equal division of labour. Two careers and in her case two children, mean equal split 50:50.
This may be easier for her, however, as not many women can leave the office at 5.30pm to get home for dinner and make over $800 million per year. It might be a little easier to negotiate from that position!