The excellent Anne Applebaum has a fine article in the New York Review of Books, reviewing Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and Hanna Rosin’s “The Rise of Women and the End of Men.” It makes several interesting points and is definitely worth reading in full.
I’ll focus on one point, Sandberg’s argument (in Applebaum’s words) that we have “a serious, important social problem: the lack of powerful women at the very top of corporate America.” Applebaum is not so sure. She writes:
“But is this really a major social problem? Is this an issue that ‘transcends all of us’? Does the solution require ‘reigniting the revolution,’ and does it mean men and women alike must rethink their lives and priorities? To put it differently, would the world be very different for women — or for men — if two hundred and fifty Fortune 500 CEOs were female? To the last question, the answer — purely on the evidence of Sandberg’s book — is no.”
I think it’s a bad idea to use the percentage of top corporate executive posts held by women — or by any other once or formerly discriminated-against group — as a measure of progress or lack thereof. For most people CEO is not an attractive job. Sure, you make lots of money. But you don’t have much free time, you have to travel a lot, you have a lot of responsibility for other people and you must make decisions in the presence of many known and unknown unknowns. Most people wouldn’t enjoy that.
Some feminists bemoan the fact that more women than men with credentials for high positions spend time at home taking care of their children and show no interest in pursuing top jobs. There are many ways to live a good life. Intelligent and knowledgeable women who choose “the mommy track” may have chosen a way that is good for them — and might be good for more men than the number who currently choosing it. Men and women who become CEOs may have chosen one that is good for them, too. It’s unwise to expect that those who do will be in accord with the gender, race, ethnic or religious profile of the nation.