Tipping the balance

Recently, I was asked to fill out a research survey on gender equality in the workplace. Sure, why not? After all, I’ve read Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s divisive look at what it means to be both female and career-oriented.

Even as many embraced Sandberg's advice to mentor co-workers, her book also rankled with assertions that women should reject the urge to hold themselves back in fear of tipping the work-life balance.

Easy enough to say when you're the chief operating officer of Facebook, right?

The reality's far more complex. I don't even have children and find myself challenged by the notion.

A close friend, a new mother, recently decided to quit her job. Living on just one paycheck, she said, would be less stressful than trying to juggle office life with quality parenting. I nodded in sympathy. After all, my cats have practically figured out how to feed themselves, as I can barely find time to clean the house or cook, much less take care of tiny, dependent beings. And I'm one of the lucky ones. Without a supportive husband, I'm sure you'd find me buried alive by piles of dirty laundry.

Now, as I read the survey, it confirmed how out-of-touch notions of a work-life balance really are. Sample question: “Which of the below stop … women from reaching the top in an organization?”

Possible answers (choose just one!) included “Because they are not ambitious enough” and “because they are trapped in household activities.”

The problem isn't singular—it's multifaceted and fuzzy: lack of government support, antiquated notions about gender roles, and companies that, in their resistance to flexible hours or job-sharing, perpetuate the cycle.

“Lean in”? Let's just try to remain standing.