The Backlash Against Sheryl Sandberg Is Already Starting

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., speaks to attendees in the Congress Center during day one of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The 42nd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will be attended by about 2,600 political, business and financial leaders at the five-day conference. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Although Sheryl Sandberg's manifesto, Lean In, was just published Monday, it already is generating a torrent of debate -- much of it among female professionals who complain they feel left out of Sandberg's vision of success in the corporate world.

One of the most poignant critiques came from one of Wall Street's most successful women, Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers. In a candid essay for The New York Times published Sunday, Callan wrote about her regrets of keeping a "singular focus" on her career, saying it wrecked her marriage and led her to forego having children.

"I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn't have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor," she wrote. At 47, she says she and her new husband are trying to conceive through in-vitro fertilization and now says she sees an upside to Lehman's collapse. "Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away" from her all-consuming professional life, she wrote.

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Erin Callan
Sandberg has two children, however, and what appears to be a fairy tale marriage, with an equally successful husband whom she says shares household responsibilities equally. Mary Louise Kelly, a former Pentagon correspondent for NPR, writes of "hitting the wall" when she got a call that her 4-year-old son was having trouble breathing, and Kelly was in Baghdad, covering a story. Soon after she quit her job. "With sincere and enormous respect for the accomplishment of superwomen like Sheryl Sandberg," she writes in The Daily Beast, "I wonder if there isn't room for a more expansive definition of female professional success." Now that she is a novelist and writes from home a few hours a day, she says she wonders, "should we automatically assume that the woman running the company is doing more with her life than the woman who has negotiated a three-day week?

Penelope Trunk, the career coach and founder of Brazen Careerist, compared the adulatory profiles of Sheryl Sandberg to women's magazine's features on rail-thin Hollywood actresses: They make women feel bad because they can't possibly measure up. "Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: She wants a great career more than anything else." Trunk, who home-schools her children and stepped off the fast track, also argues that "high performers in corporate life are so much more focused than everyone else in the workforce that it's time we stopped selling a false bill of goods; almost no one can be singularly focused to get to the top of anything."

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Of course, Sandberg's book only was published today, so the question arises: Have any of these critics actually read Lean In? How does Trunk know, for instance, that Sandberg isn't an involved parent? She doesn't say. But GigaOM distributed review copies to its female editors, and overall, their response was positive; they said they were inspired by her message that women should be more confident and dream big.

Sandberg, who has had a carefully orchestrated media blitz around her book, has indicated she expects criticism and doesn't mind it. "I welcome a reaction," she was quoted as saying. "If nothing was said, that would be disappointing."

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