In an essay for Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks writes that she hates Sheryl Sandberg. Not because she has nice hair or is wealthy, but because she has urged women to “lean in” to their work. Brooks describes taking this advice, leaning in to every opportunity inside and outside the workplace, and ending up utterly exhausted and, in her words, miserable. After briefly contemplating a move to Santa Fe to make crafts for a living, she says she came to an epiphany: “Ladies,” she writes, “if we want to rule the world—or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions—we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.” She declares there has to be “a movement” and her rallying cry is thus: “Women of the world, recline!”
But targeting women with that battle cry isn’t going to bring about the transformation that she craves. The problem is that too many women already lean out—and that far too few men do the same. We need to start by asking men to recalibrate if we’re going to revolutionize the workplace.
Brooks has put her finger on something important: asking women to lean in in today’s world is a bit like asking Atlas to help you move in to a five-floor walk-up. Americans work too much, plain and simple. A Harvard Business School survey of professionals found that 94 percent work fifty hours or more a week, and nearly half put in more than sixty-five hours a week. Out of thirty-three developed countries, Americans are eleventh in how many hours they put in each year, beating out Japan, Germany and plenty of other developed peers.
We also stand out from our developed neighbors in how little time off each worker is ensured. We are the only advanced country that doesn’t guarantee every worker some paid vacation time. We are the only one out of twenty-two developed countries that doesn’t guarantee every worker a paid day off when they get sick. We one of just three countries out of 178 that doesn’t guarantee a new mother can take paid time off when her baby arrives, not to mention fathers.
Brooks also nails it when she notes that “in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out” given that they are “still expected to work that ‘second shift’ at home.” Women are no longer waiting at home with dinner cooked, house cleaned and a cocktail at hand—nearly half of all families have two working parents, and another quarter have a single working one. But someone still has to cook that dinner and clean the house, not to mention watch the kids when they’re home from school or, if they’re infants, all day long.