From Superwoman to Sandberg: How to Do it All

“As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home,” says Facebook Director Sheryl Sandberg in her new book, ‘Lean In’. She’s right. If the gender balance at work is to shift, then we need to acknowledge that it needs to change at home too. But when a couple with children both work, the women still does twice as much housework and three times the amount of childcare. Let’s face it, change isn’t going to happen overnight.

It’s not just about splitting the chores either. One of the themes in Sandberg’s book is how women are judged more harshly when their behaviour doesn’t match gender stereotypes. For example, when women negotiate hard it can back-fire, while men using the same tactics win respect. Powerful women are expected to be likeable; men aren’t held to that same standard.

Those double standards apply just as powerfully at home. Most women managers or business owners are still expected to hold home and family together, even when business is booming. Even if that pressure is not coming from your partner or kids, the wider social pressure is hard to avoid. If visitors arrive to find your home in a mess or a school appointment or big family anniversary is missed, you can bet that the glare of disapproval shines on the woman.

Having it all still means doing it all

For most women, having it all, unfortunately still means doing it all. Most women in business manage this balance incredibly well. How do they do it? Usually with difficulty. Would they appreciate some help? Absolutely! In this respect, Lean In is a digital-age bookend to Shirley Conran’s 1980s best-seller, Superwoman. Both are ‘Have it All/Do it All’ manuals, with Sandberg focusing on the career end and Conran the domestic. If we add a sprinkle of Sandberg digital to the old Superwoman domestic goddess tips we are talking serious labour saving. Here are just a few digital tricks to help you to hold it all together:

Planning family outings or business trips. In Superwoman times this would have taken days of visits to the travel agents and calls to various hotels. Then you’d turn up to find nylon sheets and the hotel backing on to a building site. Now, feedback sites like Trip Advisor have really taken the pain out of finding somewhere to stay. And Google Street View means you can literally walk down the street before you go.

Buying gifts for clients or family  Just a couple of clicks and you can now have unique anniversary gifts  or a thoughtful token of thanks for a great client, beautifully wrapped and on its way. Put key dates into your online calendar or use Facebook birthdays and you’ll never miss an important date ever again.

Home-made meals  Shirley Conran famously said, “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.”  That is if you make it to the supermarket in the first place!  More likely, there’s nothing in the fridge. You’re about to call for a take-away… But wait. There are a whole load of online cookery sites now that can come up with a great quick home-cooked meal from a few random ingredients.   Try supercook; but be warned, it’s addictive.

Starting a business  Online is now the number one place to get help, support and advice to start a business.  Prowess 2.0 is packed with great information to help you start, survive and grow in business and you can network with other women in our LinkedIn group. We also connect you to the local business support and networking groups which we know are as important as ever for women in business.

Small steps to change

Both Sheryl Sandberg and Shirley Conran have been criticised for taking a ‘fix the woman’ approach to inequality and ignoring the external barriers holding women back. There’s some truth in that, but their contributions are still useful. Helping more women to succeed in small, practical ways makes a big difference to individuals. And as more women break through, there has to be a greater chance that their leadership will start to deliver the kinds of changes that make it easier for women to succeed at every level.


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