Hand in Hand: Lean In and Getting to 50/50

After learning about Sheryl Sandberg’s message to young women from the extensive media coverage of her TED Talk and other speeches, I knew that I should read her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  I saw myself in her comments about 20something women who tone down striving for advancement in their careers when they start thinking about reproducing.  Little did I know that while waiting for her book to arrive, I would read one that spoke to me even more directly on the related issue of men and women’s roles at work and in the home: Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All By Sharing It All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober.


I encourage every parent (and person considering becoming a parent) in a two-income household to consider reading Getting to 50/50.  Lean In is more directed toward women and is great for current conversations.  Lean In may help inspire women to strive hard for advancement in their careers, and Getting to 50/50 will share how it’s possible and why it’s advantageous to have both parents working outside the home and equally involved in the home.


Lean In


Wide-ranging and an easy read, Lean In shares advice and anecdotes from Sheryl Sandberg’s incredibly successful career.  It’s not intimidating, though – for every positive example of something Sheryl has done well, she has another example of how she failed and learned from others.  The main theme is the advice that women should keep the pedal to the metal seeking advancement in their careers right up until the point that children come on the scene, at which time they can have a real choice between their careers and scaling back at work to spend more time with their children.


The topics covered include:

  • women’s tendencies to sideline themselves
  • how to receive honest feedback about your job performance
  • stereotypes and handicaps women must deal with in the workplace
  • finding mentors and sponsors
  • how to balance work and family (imperfectly)


The main reason this book caught my attention was that I knew from watching Sheryl’s TED Talk that she saw a pattern in 20something women that as soon as they started thinking about children (usually around when they found someone they want to be with for life) they started considering how to balance work with family and stopped pushing for advancement in their careers.  I can see this tendency in my own thoughts:  I don’t know how I’ll feel after we have our first kid – maybe I’ll want to work less – maybe I should start now arranging for flexible work.  Boom, I’ve mommytracked myself and I’m not even pregnant.


While the book did cover that concern of mine, it also went far beyond into related topics.  It was very interesting to hear about the development of Sheryl’s career, especially as so many of the tech giant players are now household names.


My main criticism of Lean In is that it was very business-centric.  As a scientist still in training I had a hard time seeing how I will have leadership roles in the near future or why I would be interested in managing people when I could be playing in the lab.  Sheryl has an MBA and has worked as a consultant and in a variety of upper-level management positions.  Basically, I didn’t see her as a producer of work, as I am, but rather a facilitator of that production.  I may very well be a facilitator of work during my career, but the roles I can imagine myself in are on the production side so it was a bit difficult for me to relate to some of the lessons and examples.


One interesting aspect of the book is that Sheryl writes about her responses to the media and public reaction to her early public messages, such as her TED talk and the admission that she leaves work every day in time to have dinner with her children.  Having seen her talk and read articles and commentary on her message it was great to hear the next round of the conversation from Sheryl herself.


Mostly I am glad that I read this book because I can better participate in the national conversation that Sheryl is promoting (also fueled by Marissa Meyer’s choices in leading Yahoo!).  I don’t really think this is a timeless work, but this is the time to read it, if ever.  It’s already come up in conversation several times as I work through whether and how I can lean in to my own career.


Getting to 50/50


The thesis of Getting to 50/50 is that women, men, families, and workplaces will all benefit from husbands and wives both working outside the home and equally sharing the domestic duties.  If you are comparing with the model of breadwinner husband-homemaker wife, wives will have the satisfaction of experiencing success in the workplace and husbands will form closer relationships with their children – plus the family will be more stable with two incomes.


The three main sections in the book are:

The Good News about Work: Why Two Careers Are Better than One

Three Truths to Bust the Myths about Work Women, and Men

The 50/50 Solution and How to Make It Yours


The arguments are supported by quotes from extensive interviews with working mothers and fathers as well as results from sociological studies.  It evaluates governmental and workplace policies that encourage or discourage working parents and makes recommendations, largely on the company level, for the adoption of policies that will help working parents stay in their jobs.  However, the book is not primary about policies but what individual couples can do to keep both of them working and both of them engaged with their children.


I found the book inspiring but also exhausting.  I admit I have been thinking of dropping out/back when we have children with the hope of getting back to full-time, career-type work.  This book was encouraging because it showed many examples of husbands and wives who have good (not perfect) work and home lives and how they navigated with their employers and one another.  However, they seem to have to work very hard to achieve that balance, both in keeping the pedal to the metal in their careers and in negotiating who is doing what at home and with the children.  There were a few examples of women coming back to the work force after taking a few years away when their children were infants, but the vast majority returned to work after a few weeks or months of maternity leave.  There is a lot of management of expectations and publicity of accomplishments involved.  The couples say it’s worth it but it still sounded daunting!  However, the book was lighter on the “why” for women in particular to keep their careers going, aside from the advantages stated for having two working parents – it picked up at the “how.”


The criticism I have for this book is basically just that it narrows its audience considerably.  1) The discussion of governmental and workplace policies is US-specific.  2) The premise limits it to husband-wife households (no unmarried or same-sex or single-parent households are discussed).  3) It speaks only to the women want to stay in the workforce and are being shoved or nudged out by workplace and government policies and stereotypes, not those who truly want to be stay-at-home mothers.  4) The men and women interviewed for the book seem to only have very hard-driving high-powered careers – lawyers, physicians, CEOs and partners of companies, academicians, consultants, etc.  While the principles in the book could certainly apply to people with less prestigious careers, if women are looking for examples they can relate to, a majority will be left wanting.


It wasn’t until I was literally on the last page of the book that I realized that my parents had a 50/50 marriage from when I (the eldest of three children) was born until my mother sold her business and retired to be a stay-at-home-mom when I was 11.  My father has always been very involved on the home front with household duties and spending time with his children, particularly in coaching our sports teams when we were kids and spectating once we got to high school.  Because I was on the younger side when they were doing this I don’t recall the specifics of how they made it work (other than having a live-in nanny/housekeeper for the last 6 years) but I’m sure I can ask them about their experiences.  Kyle’s parents also both worked throughout his life (except for his mother taking 1 year off after he was born) and from what I’ve heard his father was an involved parent so we can learn from them, too.


If I want to do it, I’m pretty confident that we can have a 50/50 marriage, too.  Kyle is psyched about being a dad in the future (except he’s sort of scared of babies) and wants to support my career.  We already split household chores equitably.  I’m still not 100% convinced that I want to work full-time while we have infants but I’ll be able to make a more informed decision once I know what sort of job I have post-PhD!


Have you read Lean In or Getting to 50/50 and if so what was your reaction?  Do you think women should be encouraged to stay full-on at work as long as possible?  Do you want a 50/50 marriage and have you seen examples of 50/50 marriages?


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34 Responses to "Hand in Hand: Lean In and Getting to 50/50"

  1. The thing I don’t like about books like “Lean In” and other books like it, is that is largely sells a dream. Namely, that you can be a power professional with an amazing family life and time to pursue your own interests and hobbies. I’ve seen numerous power professionals in my life and none of them (male or female) have anything resembling balance in their lives.

    Power professions simply demand so much of your time that the other aspects of your life will get steamrolled by them. And if you can’t give as much time as is needed, someone else will – and they’ll get ahead of you.

    50/50 marriages sound great, but aren’t realistic when power professions come into play – due to time constraints. So there are two possible answers. Either one person steps back and does more domestic care taking chores so the other can be the breadwinner, or those chores all get outsourced.

    There is no having it all, there are only trade offs. Anyone who tells you differently probably has something to sell, just like Mrs. Sandburg. My postdoc mentor (a woman) flat out told women in a new faculty forum to get a nanny. My grad school mentor (also a women) put her family first and her career progression got delayed.

    I think that women (and men) should do whatever they want. So long as they understand that there are trade offs involved and consciously decide to make the trade off rather than being shoved into it by circumstances.
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    1. Lucas says:

      I completely agree that you can not have it all. It is painfully obvious by looking at wordly successfull people there are very very few people who have not completely messed up their family lives.

      1. Emily says:

        Maybe that’s why people find mentors – the needles in the haystack?

        1. Lucas says:

          I know you are going to probably disagree with me, but the 50/50 concept is pretty clearly worldly in its core assumptions and not biblical. I challenge you to find one place in scripture where this concept of 50/50 is valid. Marriage is 100/100, sacrificial love like christ, and not self serving or seeking. You do not wait to show respect or give love untill the other person has earned it, nor can you demand it. Christ loved us while there was nothing lovable in our behavior. Biblical success is determined by character and christ likeness and nothing to do with business power and money. Our perspective is to be eternal impact not temporal impact. Sorry I think Sheryl Sandberg is wrong in her core worldview and that impacts all of her ideas.

          1. Emily says:

            I actually don’t disagree with you – and I didn’t title the book! I am trying to organize a discussion in my small group about how Christians can/should/do respond to the concepts forwarded in the books because I realize they are from a completely secular perspective. But the authors of Getting to 50/50 aren’t advocating contractual marriage as far as I can tell – it’s really just about households with two working parents. Both these books are about how women can have a real choice of what to do after becoming mothers – not being forced out of the workplace by policy and not being forced into the home by misplaced expectations.

          2. Lucas says:

            What do you think scripture says about being a mother/father and where to prioritize your time?

          3. Emily says:

            I’ve done a lot of studying on Christian marriage but very little on parenting. But I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue for… I don’t see that there is a Scriptural argument against having two working parents (as I recall there is some about fathers being involved parents), and that’s basically all I’ve been discussing here.

          4. Lucas says:

            I think scripture shows higher prioritization of family (for both mother and father – who holds primary responsibility for teaching his kids even if the mother helps substantially), and less prioritization of career or even ministry as managing a family well is a considered a basic qualification of being a ministry leader.

            Ephesians 6:4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord

            Titus 2:3-5 says, “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

            1 Timothy 5:14, “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.”

            quote from (http://www.gotquestions.org/stay-at-home-mom.html)

            “Proverbs 31 is the well-known passage about the wife and mother of excellence. From the description of her, we learn that this mother did work outside of the home. However, her family never lacked anything. She maintained a proper balance, so her family never suffered. Her family was always her priority. While the Bible leaves women the choice whether to stay at home with the children or go to work outside the home, it certainly is a commendable thing for a mother to be at home with the children and devote herself to training them full time. Women are definitely encouraged in Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5 to stay at home with their young children. Whatever a woman chooses, she must maintain her home as a priority and her primary sphere of influence.”

            I mostly agree with this last quote with the addendum that I am still still responsible for the training of our Children so I plan to help out my wife as much as I possibly can and even leave my career if neccessary to spend more time with my family.

            If you want an excellent book for husbands and their responsibilities and how it plays in with family/kids I would recommend “Discovering The Mind Of A Woman” by Ken Nair (used on amazon for $4). This was probably the most challenging/convicting book I ever read and exposed a lot of wrong thoughts and issues I had 🙂

    2. Emily says:

      You make several good points here, but once again my outlook is less bleak! But I have likely observed fewer “power professionals” than you have.

      I wonder if Sandberg’s meteoric success skipped her over some of the struggles other parents face – by the time she had her first child, she was already high up at a fast-growing Google and in her late thirties.

      The quantity vs. quality of time spent/work achieved aspect was addressed by both books. Sandberg relayed her stress about trying to seem like she was putting in more time than she was and the 50/50 authors basically just advocate for switching out of workplaces where hanging around means more than your actual output.

      I’m not sure there isn’t a third way for couples – who’s to say that both careers have to be advanced at the maximum rate all the time? That doesn’t mean that one person has to make all the career sacrifices. Or are you referring to careers that are up or out exclusively? Also, I don’t think that outsourcing is terrible. As I mentioned in the post, my parents had a housekeeper/nanny for about 6 years after their 3rd child was born and I think I turned out pretty okay.

      What do you think Sandberg is selling, aside from this dream? She’s promoting her Lean In organization, but the objective seems to be fairly straightforward – more women in leadership positions in business, government, and academia. I think she believes everyone will benefit from more balanced demographics (as do the authors of 50/50).

      All that said, I do agree with many of your points, like making deliberate decisions about the trade-offs in life!

  2. I read her book over the weekend, and felt it was extremely insightful. Especially since I have been struggling with a couple of the topics she tackled. Knowing I’m not alone in my frustrations and challenges provided hope.
    As far as leaning out due to motherhood hopes/future, I do not believe in this track. My husband and I have talked about it, and we both understand I have no desire to be a stay at home mom. I never have, and don’t anticipate having that desire. I’m very career focused. My hubby is actually the one who would like to have a flexible job that would allow him to be a stay at home dad.
    My mom was a stay at home mom, and I strongly believe it hurt my parents’ dynamic, and the development of us, as children. My dad was rarely home because he was working to support us, financially. My mom stayed at home and took care of us, but was often the sole parent. I think this put pressure on her. This is a dynamic I do not want to have.
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    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for your honesty regarding your family dynamic. This is part of the point that the authors of Getting to 50/50 made – that two parents are better than one, and making one person the sole breadwinner dramatically diminishes his/her parenting role because of the financial necessities. It’s interesting though that you are comfortable with your husband being the more present parent – is that because of the swapped sexes or because he still wants to work, but flexibly?

  3. S. B. says:

    The following quote hangs on our refrigerator door, where we all see it many times each day. It has helped us immensely.

    “Done is better than perfect.”

    – Sheryl Sandberg
    S. B. recently posted..Spring 2013 Update

    1. Emily says:

      I couldn’t agree more! I guess that’s the engineer in me coming out. My husband is not that way, though!

  4. Erin says:

    Thanks for your review of Getting to 50/50. I am a newly-minted PhD (same institution as you, but way different field!) about to start an academic (non-faculty) research position, and my husband is an attorney who works long hours. I already limited myself quite a bit by deciding not to go on the academic job market due to my husband’s career/location (i.e., staying in the area). Thankfully this worked out for me! However, I have to admit that in starting to think pretty seriously about starting a family, I’ve become pretty anxious about the balancing act, particularly when my husband’s job/hours are so much less flexible than mine. He and I both grew up with SAHMs, so we are not personally familiar with how that day-to-day process works or why it might benefit both partners. It sounds like this book is a good starting point; I’ll definitely be reading it soon!

    1. Emily says:

      Congratulations on your PhD and new job! I do think 50/50 will help you. Since reading the books I’ve had a several conversations with other young men and women who think about these issues. I mean, who in our peer group doesn’t? Your husband’s career will progress, and as it doesn’t won’t he have more flexibility? Is your new job something you see yourself doing for a while? I actually see non-TT academia as a pretty good environment for families – do you agree?

      1. Erin says:

        I definitely agree that this is a hot topic in our peer group! My husband’s career is a bit unusual in that he’s in a pretty specialized segment of his field, so flexibility is limited (even in the long term). However, he doesn’t want to do it forever, so he’s anticipating increased options as he decides to move outside that market (probably in the next 4-5 years). Thankfully, my position is renewable for about the same period of time (pretty stable funding situation) so we’re hopeful that the timing should end up working out pretty well. I definitely agree that non-TT academia is pretty family-friendly; the group I’ll be working with is extremely so, and that was definitely a top consideration when I decided to pursue this job!

  5. krantcents says:

    As a male and husband, I think women should do what they want to do. Being fulfilled is very important and helps a great deal in raising children. My wife worked part time when our children were young, but she returned to full time work as they entered school. If the job or career has the flexibility to change hours helps a great deal.
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    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you all got through it okay! How did you make the decision that one of you would go part-time and which one it would be during those years?

  6. SarahN says:

    I have not read either book, but I did read a review/summary of Lean In in Marie Claire at the hairdressers. Like you, I’d started leaning out and mummytracking myself, and my bf had noticed it too (even though we’ve not dated long, he saw me ‘giving up’ on ambition in my career). The short magazine article was enough of a kick in the butt (along with the bf), and now I have two career mentors, I’ve applied to two voluntary organisations which will add experience in the field I’m interested in, as well as asking my boss for feedback on how I can develop my skills (since job movements are a little unlikely right now).

    I’d like to get a hold of 50/50 and ask for my partner to read it too. I think I feel women get a lot of the burden, even though it should be shared. And I don’t want to get all feminazi on men, but they need to step up and help, more than they have in some of the relationships I know well. (A lot of literature is US centric, but us non Americans still read it :s)

    Once I get a chance to read either of these, I’ll review them like you did, and be sure to link back!
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    1. Emily says:

      Wow, that was quite a kick in the behind! Good for you for taking action – I haven’t. :/

      There’s been plenty written about the second shift! Cultural norms haven’t changes as fast as the economy, I guess. Kyle actually took a course in college titled “The Economics of Work and Family” so he was exposed to a lot of these issues from that class, which saves me having to bring them up! I’m glad he’s conscious of the patterns we might “naturally” fall into so we can make more rational decisions together.

      I’ll look forward to your reviews!

  7. CashRebel says:

    Since one of your reasons for not worrying about financial independence is because you want to get a good return on your schooling investment, I figured you’d want to take the 50/50 method instead of quitting to take care of kids.
    That does bring up an interesting point though about how many mothers don’t get a good return on their education investment because they quit work after a few years to take care of children.
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    1. Emily says:

      Yep, I would say the 50/50 thing is our plan A. Plan B wouldn’t involve not working but would be more about flexible, part-time, or at-home work for me when we have infants. TBH I don’t do well at all with sleep deprivation and being functional in full-time work while sleep deprived is my main concern. Kyle, on the other hand, is a sleep dep champ. Also, I’ll be the one producing milk.

      Haha Dave Ramsey harps on that point all the time. He is really supportive of women who want to be stay-at-home moms, even after plenty of education, but when there’s a particularly egregious example of a couple paying off tons of the wife’s student loan debt while she’s at home with a baby he gets on his soapbox. It is pretty insane to go hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt for a law degree and not even get as far into your career as passing the bar before becoming a non-working mother (the most recent example I’ve heard on his show).

  8. I think people should do whatever they want to do without being judged by others. If that means a woman goes from career driven to wanting be stop working permanently and just focus on being a mommy, that’s totally okay. If a couple feels like the guy is the best option to stay home or reduce his workload to be the primary caretaker, that’s okay too. Both women and men should have choices.

    As a parent of a daughter who is not yet a teenager, I think to the future and want her to have all the options – lean in, lean out, whatever she wants. But, that’s quite a while away!
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    1. Emily says:

      It’s funny – I’ve heard that framing questions in terms of “Would you want that for your child?” can be very clarifying.

  9. Our friends who live in CA have all been very successful negotiating hours down when children are born, regardless of gender. It seems far more common in CA than it is in the heartland.
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    1. Emily says:

      That is encouraging! I wonder why…

      1. I imagine it’s because labor is so much in demand, and because hours in the seat do not equal productivity, and when you have so many highly intelligent driven folks, you can get high quality work out of them in under 40hrs/week, at least for limited time periods. CA firms also tend to have better benes.

        I strongly recommend reading wandering-scientist’s blog. She’s in the biotech industry in San Diego and her husband is also a professional (they each make over 100K). They have two awesome, intense, brilliant kids. And they’re not unhappy. They’re not severely stressed.

        But I know plenty of couples in LA and the SF bay area who also love their lives and their fulfilling dual careers and their kids. Anybody who tells you it can’t be done needs to do some soul-searching.
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        1. Emily says:

          Thanks for the encouraging words and the recommendation!

  10. […] Hand in Hand: Lean In and Getting to 50/50 was featured in the Financial Carnival for Young Adults. […]

  11. […] Heeled Blog referred to my post on Lean In and Getting to 50/50 in her review of Lean […]

  12. […] “lean in 50/50” – looks like someone else saw the similarities between these two books […]

  13. […] that the SAHMs are doing a decent job (this is such a different perspective than the one I get from Sheryl Sandberg, Sharon Meers, and Joanna Strober).  Near the end of the message on Psalm 127, our pastor expounded on what a blessing children […]

  14. […] at this time in my life is, to me, a form of leaning out, and what I really want to do right now is lean in to my post-PhD […]

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