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Women still talking about Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In’
By Helena Oliviero
Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” has set off a national conversation about how women can make lasting progress toward professional equality and changes in the workplace that will help working mothers balance career and family. Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, encourages women to lean in to their ambitions and make their voices heard in the workplace.
We recently invited a range of female executives to participate in a roundtable discussion. We leaned in, listened ... and now we continue the conversation with more voices. They include a prominent attorney, a stay-at-home mom and a woman who scaled back her career after having a child and later started her own communications business.
Here are their stories:
— Mary Gill, partner with Alston & Bird law firm, married, mother to three grown children, Atlanta.
Gill said one of the messages from Sandberg’s book that resonated with her is: Don’t leave before you leave.
“Women tend to plan so far out in the future, and try to anticipate what they can accomplish, and where they hope they will be with a family and whether that fits well with the opportunities presented. I think there’s this tendency not to pursue opportunities out of fear you may not be successful because you anticipate being in a different place with your personal life. ... The point I would make is that none of us can predict where we will be in two or three years or how we will manage our life with one, or two, or three children. ... So the philosophy that I would encourage is to seize the opportunity and figure out the rest, day by day, week by week, month by month.”
Gill, about to celebrate her 30th wedding anniversary and mother to three grown children, believes law firms lose many women before they have children because women struggle to envision life as both an attorney and a mother. “If that vision is cloudy and they can’t imagine how to make it work, they often make the decision to exit the firm and choose a different path before they are really confronted with the situation.” Gill said it’s important for firms to offer flexibility and resources, such as on-site day care, to help attorneys with young children balance work and family life. She played a key role in implementing a policy at her firm that allows attorneys to reduce their hours and days in the office.
For Gill, a strong neighborhood support network has played a critical role in helping balance life.
“When my son was a baby, my neighbor watched him so I could get my daily run, and I would watch her kids so she could then run,” said Gill, who has lived in the same house since 1986.
She also gets unwavering support from her husband, Dennis Kruszewski.
“My husband has given me unconditional, unqualified support from the beginning and has never questioned or challenged or criticized when I had a work-related obligation that I needed to satisfy. ... I am fortunate. I hate to cook. He loves to cook, and he’s always happy to pick up with other tasks to enable me to do my job.”
— Annette Bulick, stay-at-home mom, married, four daughters between 7 and 19, Johns Creek, Ga.
Bulick believes the voices of stay-at-home moms who decided to opt out by choice get lost in the discussion.
“I made a different choice,” said Bulick. “It doesn’t mean I’m wrong, just different.” Ten years ago, Bulick worked in statistical marketing, and her career soared.
She learned early on, however, that asking for what you need can be risky. In her book, Sandberg talks about marching up to her boss at Google (where she worked before her current job at Facebook) and demanding the company create closer parking for its pregnant employees. Sandberg was expecting her first child. Her boss immediately agreed and wondered why he hadn’t thought of it earlier.
But Bulick said she could not have made a similar request.
“When I was pregnant and had bad morning sickness, I got in trouble for lying down. I was told it was ‘inappropriate.’ There was no way I was going to ask for more,” she said.
She continued to thrive in her job, but at a price.
Mother to four girls, she was leaving her house (in the Dallas, Texas, area at the time) before 6 a.m. and not returning until 7 p.m. — just minutes before her baby’s bedtime. She worked so many hours her nanny needed a nanny.
So she made a decision to leave her job. In 2008, her husband got a job in the trucking industry near Johns Creek, where they decided to move.
“I would like to say my life is calm, but with three kids at home it can still get a little chaotic,” said Bulick, who is 43. “But it’s a lot smoother. I definitely don’t overschedule my kids, and we have dinner together every night.” Bulick said she sometimes misses work and recently applied for a 40-hour-a-week job. She got a call for an interview, but withdrew her application.
“I had to withdraw. I am content with the way things are, and as much as I would like to work, with the ages of my children now, this is the best place for me now.”
— Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, owner of Tribe, married, mother to 13-year-old son, Sandy Springs, Ga.
Baskin owned an ad agency in the late 1990s. After having her son, she hired a nanny to watch her baby in a soundproof room at the office.
She quickly realized the ad agency didn’t mesh easily with raising children. “The way the industry works, you are at the beck and call of your clients. You can’t always control when you travel and when you have meetings,” said Baskin, who is now 50.
So she climbed down the ladder. She sold her business and freelanced — around her son’s schedule. During his toddler years, she worked just a few hours a week, setting up shop in a sun room and working while he napped. When he started kindergarten and was in school, she worked every day until about 3 p.m. In recent years, she has built her internal communications company, Tribe, working with several major corporations.
“If I just stayed on a career path and not veered at all for kids, would my life be any better? Although we may take a little different path and it may slow us down a bit, the life we are creating is more full. ... And it really is a pretty short period. For five years, it’s very intense. ... I wish there were more female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. ... But for women, if we slow down during those child-bearing years, I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”