Sheryl 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.
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:
- A truly equal and better world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.