ssandbergSheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and the first woman to serve on Facebook’s board. Previously Chief of Staff for the US Secretary to the Treasury and Vice-President at Google, she has also made the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.

She’s now written a New York Times bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and with one million sold in less than a year she can add a few more dollars to her $400 million personal fortune. It also taught me some valuable lessons.

Different worldview
First, I was exposed to a completely different worldview to my own, and was helped to better identify many of the presuppositions that are driving government policy, public education, legal trends, and business practices. These basic beliefs include:

  1. A truly equal and better world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.
  2. Children, parents, and marriages can all flourish when both parents have full careers. The data plainly reveal that sharing financial and child-care responsibilities leads to less guilty moms, more involved dads, and thriving children.
  3. The idea of men as providers, decisive, and driven; of women as caregivers, sensitive, and communal, are social stereotypes and not inbuilt into nature.

If we want to influence public discourse, we need to bring the Bible’s teaching to bear on these fundamental assumptions.

Pastoral Concern
Second, as a pastor, I got to know a bit about one of the books that are influencing not just our culture but even many within the church. I don’t think we should be so naive as to think that such a bestselling book by such a successful woman in such a glamorous industry is not going to be read by many women in the church – and impact their beliefs and approach to male/female roles and relationships. That’s something I want to be sensitive to and to wisely apply biblical correctives if possible. I also want to learn how to better minister to women whose calling may well be to pursue a career instead of motherhood.

Social Justice
Third, I was surprised to be quite moved by the stories and statistics of the abiding injustice and unfairness that many women experience in life and in the workplace. Just because Sheryl Sandberg is using these statistics to support an unbiblical view of gender roles, etc., does not mean that I should ignore or discount them. Here are some of the facts and figures she presents throughout the book:

  • Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s but the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. Only twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
  • While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, they have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry.
  • Women hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials.
  • In 1970, American women were paid 59 cents for every dollar their male counterparts made. By 2010, women had protested, fought, and worked strenuously to raise that compensation only 18 cents to 77 cents for every dollar men made.
  • A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.
  • Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional—or worse, sometimes even a negative—for women. “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment
  • Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.
  • According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than the father. Only 9 percent of people in dual-earner marriages said that they shared housework, child care, and breadwinning evenly.

Given the God-ordained differences in men and women, we have to accept an element of these statistics as inevitable. However, it’s not difficult to see a degree of basic and painful injustice in some of these points. Is there nothing we can do to strive for more God-honoring fairness in even a few of these areas?

Ultimately, I was unconvinced by Sandberg’s larger case. She totally fails to account for the reality of the significant and beautiful differences that God has designed in men and women. She fights hard against accepting any distinction between the sexes either in nature, gifts, or roles. In fact, apart from childbirth, she really proposes that the route to better male/female relationships in the home, the workplace, and in society is to flatten and remove any and all differences.

Instead of seeing husband and wife as key and lock that work together to open the door to loving harmony, she really wants everybody to be a lock – which isn’t going to get anybody very far.

I contrast this to the beautifully different but complementary roles that God has designed into our natures, described in principle in His Word, and that I’ve seen working so well in so many Christian marriages. I’m then brought to worship and adore the Maker’s perfect plan for His imperfect creatures. If only we would take our Maker’s instructions and follow them better.

Personal Surprise
I was surprised to find how much I admired and even liked Sandberg. She’s obviously a hugely talented woman that has contributed much to our world. In the long run, though, the millions of godly women who “lean in” to their children, their husbands, and their homes, are producing an even more valuable return on investment, one that will last beyond this present world and into eternity.

I did appreciate Sandberg’s honesty as she described her many frustrations at trying to implement her worldview, and put her principles into practice. I wanted to say to her, “Do you not see you’re sawing against the grain? You’re going against nature and against God?” I hope and pray that she finds God’s way, not just for male/female roles and relationships, but also for her relationship with God Himself.

  • se7en

    What a great article, thank you. You are so right, we often don’t notice that it is the “different world view” that makes us uncomfortable. The fact that someone has such widely different ideas to our own is often because their belief system is so different to ours, it’s not just a difference of opinion.

    • David Murray

      Yes, it was a helpfully revealing book.

  • Bernard

    Excellent review thanks very much David.

    • David Murray

      Thanks Bernard

  • Steven Birn

    That women aren’t 50% of the CEO’s and that women earn less than men isn’t an injustice. Many women leave work for a period of time to have and raise children. By leaving the workplace, they lose time and skills. Frankly, most women who have children are never as good in the workplace as they were before. They become distracted and preoccupied with their kids in a way men do not. The result of that is they don’t earn promotions and thus don’t earn extra pay. That isn’t an injustice, it’s cold reality.

    • Hannah Anderson

      Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt a few fathers to be a little MORE “preoccupied” with their kids and less driven by corporate culture.

      Quite frankly, one of the greatest problems within conservative structures (and I count myself as a conservative) is not that we believe in different roles for men and women but that we rarely evaluate the structures in which we apply those roles. Instead of questioning whether work and home intersect in a healthy way, we have a highly secularized view of work that sees employees as cogs in a machine and anything that interrupts that machine (e.g. stepping away to care for family) immediately makes them less valuable.

      You’d be surprised at the management and multi-tasking skills a woman achieves by running a home and mothering children. To say that this makes her LESS useful as a worker should alert us to the fact that our workplace paradigms are seriously flawed, not that women deserve to be compensated at a lower rate.

      *stepping off soapbox now*

      • David Murray

        Great points Hannah.

      • Hermonta Godwin

        I think you are correct that men should think of spending more time with their children; however, I think such is the case because children need them and not so that mom can go back to work at IBM in peace.

        Next, if we do believe in different roles for men and women, why would we expect a proper and just world to see doing the same roles at anything close to the same rate?

        Next, your cog analogy does not work. Stepping away from work to care for children is a great thing to be done for one’s family and for society in general but one should not expect such to make one more valuable in the workforce (especially the type of workforce that is dynamic and highly paid). To make such a claim, one would have to believe that the man or woman who never left the workforce were unable to gain anything from that experience if the mom who took time away is their absolute equal.

        Lastly, the only reason that a woman should be able to walk away from the job and be just as useful as her husband when she returns, is if women are the super sex and gender roles are arbitrary and not based on the created order.

        • Hannah Anderson

          1. My point for fathers to spend more time with their children had no bearing on whether their mothers were pursuing careers. Fatherhood is equally necessary to child development as motherhood. We don’t tend to believe this as a society or as a church.

          2. Roles vs. Value. Yes, different roles should be valued equally. SAHMs should be valued at the same rate as their work away from home husbands.

          3. My point is not to argue against differing roles but that the structures in which we apply those roles are fundamentally flawed. Women who take time off to raise families are paid a lower rate because the marketplace does not deem what she learns there as valuable. But if she were to take time off to pursue academic education or travel the world, it would be considered enriching and make her even more marketable. When she cares for a family, it is a negative on her resume; when she takes a gap year to live overseas, it’s a plus. This is fundamentally unjust.

          4. I do not believe women are the super sex. I do believe they are equal image bearers and should be valued as such. In a capitalist society, we express value through money and promotion. To pay women at a lower rate is akin to valuing them and their unique calling less.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            1)Okay so we have some level of agreement. Next, question, do you believe that men have to spend as much time with their children as their wives or something is wrong with the situation?

            2)There seems to be an ambiguity in what you are arguing here. At first, it seemed that you were saying that mothers (mainly former stay at home ones) were underpaid for the skills that they were bring to the workplace. Now it seems that you are hinting that they should be paid at the same level of those who never left the workplace or “the system” is messed up and such people are being undervalued. Are you saying that they should be paid the same as others regardless of how they contribute to: running a department, writing code, making widgets etc because they are moms? Or are you saying that whatever skills they obtained from bearing and raising children makes them the equal of those who did not?

            If you take the first fork where women are inherently as equally qualified for whatever job as those who never left the job market or who went on to get more education implies that women are the super sex.

            3)How can you call such unjust unless you want to put forward an argument that bearing and raising kids inherently makes one a more productive employee in whatever industry we are talking about. I can’t see such an argument being made. That is setting aside the fact that moms typically need more flexibility in order to continue to take care of their children even after they are back at work. If we are going to pay them the same as others who is going to have to receive less compensation to make up the loss in productivity over hiring someone else? Do you believe that her husband or other husbands need to be paid less so that she can be paid more than here productivity requires? Should the shareholders expect lower dividends etc in order for her to be paid more? etc.?

            4)In a capitalistic society, the ability to get whatever job done is what is valued. If being a mother helps that, then one will be paid appropriately. If such does not help such, then one wont be paid as much. That does not imply that women should not get married and have children. Sometimes one has to give up something that is a good for something that one considers a higher good. A similar thing could be seen if a father does not take a higher paying job because the hours would take him away from his family too much. A man who is not married with children or whose children have now left the house, may find such a position more appealing. Is such a situation devaluing of fatherhood?

    • David Murray

      Steven, I didn’t say that I found injustice in all these statistics. I believe the God-ordained difference in men and women will inevitably cause some of these statistics. I questioned whether God-ordained difference could explain them all and whether at least some of it may be the result of sinful abuse of the differences.

      • Steven Birn

        My experience in business is that sinful abuse has nothing to do with it these days. If anything, right out of college women make more than men. Their salaries drop off compared to men, largely because they take off long periods of time to have children.

  • Hermonta Godwin

    Isn’t the fact that men run the top companies what one would expect considering 1 Timothy 2:12

    • David Murray

      Similar to what I wrote to Steven. I didn’t say that I found injustice in all these statistics. I believe the God-ordained difference in men and women will inevitably cause some of these statistics. I questioned whether God-ordained difference could explain them all and whether at least some of it may be the result of sinful abuse of the differences.

      • Hermonta Godwin

        The problem then is that your claim is too generic to respond to with substance. Unless you have some idea that 80-20 or some similar number is what one should expect to see when one considers CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and some basis in that number, I am unsure how to respond with more than, such is what I would expect given the Scriptural data.