This can’t be what she meant by “leaning in.” Sheryl Sandberg has a high-pressure job, one she said she couldn’t do without the help of her husband. Unfortunately, David died suddenly at the age of 47.
Now Sheryl must go on alone, raising her two sons while continuing as the number two executive at Facebook.
Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book encouraging women to step up their game, while acknowledging how hard it is in the current culture. That acknowledgement reflected her maturation. She, like her peers in high school and college, once viewed feminists as man-haters. As she got older, she was more sensitive to the way the male-dominated (yes it is) business world still makes it hard for women. She argued in Ted Talks, her book, and many other forums that women must lean in, take a chance, make the leap. But we often don’t. For example, in the book, she tells of young female employee who declines a promotion because she wants to be a mother, but she doesn’t even have a boyfriend yet.
In all ways, Sandberg argues for women to try harder, negotiate better, say yes to challenge (citing the fact that men often overvalue their strengths and understate their weaknesses, while women do the opposite.)
What cruel fate! just at the point where she’s gained the most traction and notoriety for encouraging women to try harder at work, she loses her husband. David Goldberg was her mentor, coach, and best friend. In Lean In, Sheryl mentions David almost fifty times, in admiration and gratitude. She says how important he was to her professional success, as well as critical to the well-being of their sons.
Now she’s lost that support. How will it change her future? Will she step down from Facebook? As she tells young women how to get along, from the lofty perch of all of her hard-won advantages, will she continue on the same trajectory, having lost one of her most critical?
She told us women that we’re afraid to step up, and that fear, which is unfounded, can make us poor in later life. She told us to stand up for ourselves and negotiate, because we don’t. She told us to pick the right husband, because that’s critical for our success. She traveled around the world arguing her case that we should throw more of ourselves at work.
It’s almost as if Fate said, “What can we do to force her to step up her game? To put her money where her mouth is? What’s the one thing we can throw at Sheryl Sandberg to force her to evolve once more?”
Will she lean back? Will she remove herself from the pressure? Or can we, women and men together, humanize the corporate world so it’s a place where widows, and parents, and people who are caring for their own parents, don’t have to choose between family and workplace?
It’s possible that, in navigating these rough new seas, she will chart a new course not just for herself, but for us.
This is Sheryl Sandberg’s biggest Lean In moment yet.