From White’s resentful attitude about the forced makeover, you get the hopeful feeling that this painful transition phase won’t last for ever, that we are closer to the tipping point than we realise and one day soon there will be enough Whites in power that they won’t have to tread so lightly any more.
One would expect that a powerful woman would downplay her husband’s role in her success. But in a new twist on an old trope, the powerful women I spoke to all admitted being utterly dependent on their husbands. White’s husband runs a private equity firm, which is a demanding job but still leaves him more space than she has. He now “does the majority of house stuff”, White says – paying bills, fixing leaks, getting dinner, planning the rare vacations.
She takes their child to school in the morning, but he does the evening nanny handover – “Arguably the bigger sacrifice” – so she can work later. White’s experience has left her with the impression that “the men around here” – meaning in Silicon Valley – “are becoming more comfortable with all that. There’s no shame if you’re the one doing more of the childcare.”
Sandberg reframed the issue of women and work in her 2010 TED talk with the memorable phrase, “Don’t leave before you leave.” The phrase was attached to a story about a young woman at Facebook who came into her office agonised about how she would balance work and a child.
The woman looked very young, so Sandberg asked her, “Are you and your husband thinking about having a baby?” It turned out the woman didn’t even have a boyfriend. She was just doing that thing young women tend to do, which is hesitate before she’d even got started.
“I watch it all day long,” Sandberg told me. “Women are making room for kids they don’t have, years before they try to get pregnant. Then, when they do get pregnant, they would be coming back to a job they no longer want.”
The men, meanwhile, are “super-aggressive and focused. They are in your office every day. ‘Can I do that? Can I lead this?’ They don’t have to be talked into things.”
Recently, Sandberg offered a woman a new job in business development. The woman came into her office worried that she might not be able to handle it. Why, Sandberg asked. She was pregnant, the woman confessed. “Congratulations,” Sandberg said. “That’s all the more reason for you to take this job. Then you’ll have something exciting to come back to.”
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