Confessions of an Anti-Sheryl Sandberg: Why I Don’t Believe in ‘Leaning In’


maxed outFor the average American mother, “opting in” really isn’t an option—it’s a necessity.

Thanks to the high cost of raising a child (it’s now an estimated $241,000 per kid, not including college!) and the fact that the job market remains stagnant and wages are static, many families require two incomes. This reality, coupled with ambition, is why women now serve as primary or substantial earners in two-thirds of American households.

Yet, in spite of its robust female workforce, the U.S. lags far behind other countries when it comes to enabling mothers to successfully juggle careers and kids. For one, companies aren’t legally required to offer paid maternity leave, which is a given in countries like France by law. Put simply, working mothers get short shrift, argues Katrina Alcorn in her new book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink.”

Four years ago, while raising three children and working around the clock at her dream job as a creative director at a design agency, Alcorn suffered a breakdown on her way to buy diapers. After quitting her job, she decided to examine not only the personal decisions that push working moms to the edge but the social and political forces at play too.

The result is a counterpoint book to Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” which—along with countless career experts and blogs—advises women to just work harder without considering the many ramifications. Intrigued, we asked Alcorn to share some key insights from “Maxed Out.”

LearnVest: You argue that “leaning in” can lead to burnout, but scaling back can also cost you, no?

Katrina Alcorn: I don’t think scaling back is always the right thing to do, and, of course, everyone’s decision is personal. The reason that I wrote this book is because we can’t solve the problem on an individual level—it’s also a societal and systemic problem.

Still, if you’re in a situation where you can’t afford to make less money or reduce your hours, you should at least consider your worth. Women are now the better educated half of the population. Companies who have women leaders make higher profits, and do better on the stock exchange. So our companies need us. When we realize how valuable we are, we can advocate better for ourselves.

RELATED: Big Companies Recruit Moms

  • Julie G

    “Conversations about “having it all” and “leaning in” all too often devolve into a discussion of personal choices, leaving working mothers feeling individually responsible for their inability to cope. We are not supported the way we should be.” Thanks for articulating that – I was trying to figure out what irritated me so much about Ms. Sandberg, other than how easy it is for someone who can afford a nanny and a housekeeper to tell me what to do.
    We need more than just another guilt trip about how we’re not doing enough as women. We need equal pay for equal work, we need men to start doing their share of housework and child care duties, and we need a society that values parenthood.

  • Robin

    “I was trying to figure out what irritated me so much about Ms. Sandberg, other than how easy it is for someone who can afford a nanny and a housekeeper to tell me what to do.”
    My feelings exactly!! She doesn’t have to worry about racing to the day care center by 6pm or being heavily fined for being late and possibly the dismissal of your child from the day care center if it happens too often!

  • LaurenEHDavis

    It doesn’t appear that Alcorn even read “Lean In,” but only read the critiques. If she did read it, she’d realize that Sandberg hits all of Alcorn’s points in the book, and wouldn’t be “anti-Alcon” in the slightest. Why so much hate when it comes to working mothers vs. stay at home mothers vs. mothers doing what they need to do to provide for their family? I love Learn Vest, but shocked you’d put this in here without thoroughly doing your research.

    • Andrea

      I completely agree! All Lean In messages are taken wildly out of context. It is especially troublesome that the LV contributor participates – “Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In,’ which advises women to just work harder without considering the many ramifications.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

    • Charlotte L

      I also completely agree. Lean In explicitly argues that the idea of being able to “have it all” is extremely harmful to women. I USED to love LearnVest, but this is only the latest article that is completely under-researched and ridden with misquotes or data taken out of context.

      Women should be building each other up, not tearing each other down. (Which Alcorn would know if she had actually read Lean In…)

    • Dee

      +1 on this comment. It really feels like a very ignorant article. She either didn’t read Lean In, or she was too prejudiced against Sheryl to truly understand the message. Disappointed that LV (or perhaps it’s the author) is framing this as anti-Sheryl, when both women are trying to achieve the same thing and there is no conflict between their real messages.

  • Jane Jestson

    The title is clearly meant to be controversial and “click-bate.” I didn’t agree with everything the author said but might have been more open-minded with a less inflammatory headline. Since I did read the article and comment LV, scored a win. Agreed that some LV articles are less than well thought out or researched.