competing for attention
And yet no one knows whether women will show up for Ms. Sandberg’s revolution, a top-down affair propelled by a fortune worth hundreds of millions on paper, or whether the social media executive can form a women’s network of her own. Only a single test “Lean In Circle” exists. With less than three weeks until launch — which will include a spread in Time magazine and splashy events like a book party at the foundation offices of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — organizers cannot say how many more groups may sprout up.
Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder. Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgments include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?
The project has the feel of a social experiment: what if women at major corporations could review research on how to overcome gender barriers, along with instruction on skills like negotiation and communication? Will working women, already stretched thin, attend nighttime video lectures on “Unconditional Responsibility” and “Using Stories Powerfully”? The instructions for the gatherings, provided to The New York Times by an outside adviser to the project, are precise, down to membership requirements (participants can miss no more than two monthly meetings per year) and the format (15-minute check-in, 3 minutes each for personal updates, a 90-minute presentation, then discussion).
Ms. Sandberg has asked a wide array of women to contribute their success stories to her new Web site. (Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The Times, wrote an essay, and the newspaper is one of many corporations to sign on to the project.) The written requests ask for positive endings, suggesting that tales closing with missed promotions or broken marriages are unwelcome. Hoping to reach beyond an elite audience, Ms. Sandberg and her foundation joined forces with Cosmopolitan magazine, which is publishing a 40-page supplement to its April issue devoted to Ms. Sandberg’s ideas, and plan to spread her message to community colleges, according to those involved in the project.
But criticism is also starting to build: that Ms. Sandberg places too much of the onus on women who are already struggling to fulfill impossible demands, and too little on government and employers to provide better child care, more flexible jobs and other concrete gains.
Ms. Sandberg “does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough,” wrote Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a consultant who works with companies to improve their gender balance, after watching a video of Ms. Sandberg speaking on the topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. “Every resistant man on the planet will be able to quote her” saying that women simply must become more ambitious, Ms. Cox continued. (Ms. Sandberg writes that she focuses on internal barriers because the external ones get more attention.)
Ms. Sandberg’s project, according to members of her launch committee and their solicitations, asks little of the corporations signing on as “launch partners,” which include American Express, Google, Sony, Johnson & Johnson and multiple media businesses. Mostly they are asked to lend their logo to Lean In and distribute its materials to employees. In exchange, they will get recognition for supporting the Lean In cause, the solicitation says.