Sisterhood Blog

Ban Bossy? But It's a Jewish Birthright

By Elissa Strauss

Sheryl Sandberg is trying to ban the word “bossy” by telling everyone what to do. It’s kinda funny.

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Reclining and Leaning In Aren't Only Options

By Elissa Strauss

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Foreign Policy columnist Rosa Brooks wrote a call to arms last week inciting women of the world to recline. In the piece, Brooks explains that she tried to lean in, a la Sheryl Sandberg, stepping up at work, volunteering more at school, pushing, pushing, pushing as hard as she could until, finally, she realized that while she was indeed more successful she was also totally miserable.

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'Having it All' as an Ex-Hasidic Woman

By Frimet Goldberger

Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg, another feminist bites the dust and realizes she can’t “have it all.”

This epiphany came as I boarded a Delta flight from Montego Bay to JFK two weeks ago. My husband and I took a weeklong trip to magnificent Negril Beach, or what I like to call Paradise, Jamaica, to celebrate two momentous occasions — our 10th wedding anniversary and my graduation from Sarah Lawrence College. We spent our days basking in the warm Caribbean sunshine, drinking one too many strawberry daiquiris, and reveling in the freedom of being unplugged from everyone and everything. What resulted was a week of epic discoveries about myself and my family, as well as the realization that, in pursuit of personal ambitions, my priorities may have shifted. Somehow along the way, I went from being family-first to career-first.

The fierce drive to get places, to transcend the limits of my predestined path in life as a stay-at-home mom, is something I have been struggling with ever since I left Kiryas Joel, the Hasidic enclave in upstate New York where I grew up. I use the word “struggle” not to derogate ambition, but rather to explain why I find it increasingly difficult to find a work/life balance as a girl who became a mother before she was ever a woman.

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Men Need To Lean Out

By Elissa Strauss

Only 9% of employed mothers ages 25-44 spend more than 50 hours working. For college-educated women this number rises slightly, to 13.9%. Compare this to fathers who live with their kids and work outside the home, of whom 29% report spending more than 50 hours a week at work. Also interesting this gap exists for the childless as well: 21% of men without kids report doing a 50-plus hours a week, vs. 14% of women.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Joan C. Williams, Founding Director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, looks at the latest gap that women should be worried about — the difference between hours spent by men vs. women at the office.

She writes:

This “long hours problem,” analyzed so insightfully by Robin Ely and Irene Padavic, is a key reason why the percentage of women in top jobs has stalled at about 14 percent, a number that has barely budged in the past decade. We can’t expect progress when the fast track that leads to top jobs requires a time commitment that excludes most mothers — and by extension, most women.

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Men Really Want It All

By Elissa Strauss

Citi and LinkedIn recently published the results from their third Today’s Professional Woman Report, a national survey exploring women’s thoughts on their careers and work-life balance. For this round, they decided to pose their questions to men, too.

They asked each gender to define what “having it all” means to them. The vast majority of the men, 79%, said it included a “ strong, loving marriage” vs. 66% of women, and 86% of men factor having kids into their definition of success compared to 73% of women. Also, the number of women who say their definition of success is not linked to marriage or relationships has doubled since the survey was first conducted in July 2012, jumping from 5% to 9%.

At first glance these results are a little surprising, even heartwarming. Young men tend to be less likely to show interest in settling down than women — just ask any single woman in her 20s — so it is kinda sweet to know that somewhere in there they are just big softies who cherish the idea of one day having a wife and kids.

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Fearlessly Leaning In

By Chanel Dubofsky

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Sheryl Sandberg

The “What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?” Tumblr is the latest project from Lean In, the global community born out of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same title. The blog is inspired by studies showing that although women are graduating college with higher GPAs than their male peers, they are avoiding leadership roles and report being afraid to speak up. In response, the Lean In team asked women in and around New York City to tell them what they would do if they weren’t afraid.

So far, many of the answers are about work. Women report that they would “use their voices more in the workplace” and “ask for more money.” They would also quit their jobs and pursue more creative lives. They’d use the word “artist” and “writer” to describe themselves. Another trend are women who say that if they were not afraid they would live alone, travel alone and even leave the house alone at night. Others would call themselves feminists and speak undeterred about their political beliefs.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking a stroll through the blog; it is troubling and illuminating, and says a lot about the priorities of a capitalist society. A job, for example, should look a particular way: 9 to 5, at the very least; in an office; with a certain dress code; in a corporate culture (even for non profits), and with a salary at a certain level. It’s hard to take the leap that comes with living outside of this paradigm — it often means being without steady income and health insurance, as well as pushing back against assumptions about productivity and legitimacy.

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Having Some of It

By Johnna Kaplan

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When Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” came out, it immediately saturated the public consciousness. I didn’t know precisely what “Lean In” meant (it seems most people debating it now aren’t entirely sure either) but I could tell the concept would irk me. And that’s because it sounded so suspiciously like that other buzzword for contemporary working women: “having it all.”

When that phrase first started to turn up in every article aimed at a female audience, I rolled my eyes at it too. There has been much conflation of the two ideas (alongside claims that Sandberg did not intend to conflate them.) But it’s clear that “am I leaning in?” has, at least for now, replaced “can I have it all?” as the issue we’re supposed to worry about.

What tipped my “you just don’t get it” frustration into full-on rage, though, was not one of the numerous news articles about what Sandberg’s book means for women in the workplace. It was this question on Ask MetaFilter, an online forum where users ask each other about almost anything and receive long and — mostly — thoughtful answers. The question, titled “Not Leaning In,” was posted by a woman with a well-paid and flexible job, a young daughter, a husband and a sense of contentment. It was the contentment that bothered her. “With all this “Lean In” stuff going around these days, I feel kind of like I should want more, but I really don’t,” she wrote. “I’m sure society can spare one woman, we don’t all have to [be] high-achieving, go-getters, right?”

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What Feminists Can Learn from Jews

By Elissa Strauss

Zoonar/Thinkstock

Last week Hanna Rosin scared me. In an essay on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, she expressed a deep skepticism about the relevance of feminism, today and tomorrow.

Let me start by saying I have deep respect for Rosin and the way she often wipes the schmutz off the women’s movement’s collective windshield to help us all see what is up ahead.

But a call to forsake the word “feminist”? Say it ain’t so, Hanna.

This being the Forward and all, I thought I would take a shot at defending the continuation of feminism, as a phrase and movement, from a Jewish perspective. Way, way before Madonna, we Jews mastered the art of self-reinvention without ever totally losing ourselves. Maybe now is the time for feminism to steal a move or two from our playbook.

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Give Sheryl Sandberg A Break

By Elissa Strauss

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Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg

Can we all please give Sheryl Sandberg a break? I mean, come on. She is hardly the worst thing to happen to intelligent women since the “Real Housewives” franchise, and yet, for some reason, we are treating her like she is public enemy number one.

Her new book and media campaign “Lean In,” written to help empower women to “achieve their full potential” at work, have been met with contempt by both Jodi Kantor and Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, Jessica Grose over at Slate, Melissa Gira Grant in the Washington Post, and here on the Sisterhood by Renee Ghert-Zand. There is even a mostly media-manufactured catfight between Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter (you can read about it in the Kantor piece), author of the Atlantic article on work/life balance heard round the world, who believes we should be putting pressure on institutions to change.

The conclusion is that Sandberg is an elitist who blames women for their lack of success. That because of her money and power she has no idea what it feels like to make choices between work and family. And that because she wants women to grab a hold of the clutch means that she is letting everyone and everything else off the hook.

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Sheryl Sandberg's Impossible Solution

By Renee Ghert-Zand

getty images
Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook Chief Operating Officer and newly self-styled feminist leader Sheryl Sandberg wants women to “Lean In,” as the title of her new book tells us, instead of “pulling back.” Well, let me tell you — I’ve been leaning in for two decades until the point that I am almost flat on my face from exhaustion.

The first thing one might ask is: where the heck is this woman coming from, telling other women that “we hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands,” and that this is why “men still run the world”?

I know exactly where Sandberg is coming from: a 9,200 square foot home in Menlo Park, Calif., which sits on property she and her husband bought for almost $3 million. She’s also coming from a situation in which she has “a small army of household help,” according to a recent article by Jodi Kantor in The New York Times.

I can assure you that I have always been one to raise my hand (just ask any teacher, professor or boss I have ever had.) Sure, I’ve had my moments of self-doubt, but most people would not characterize me as someone who lacks self-confidence.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Work-Life Balance, Sisterhood, Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Jewish Women, Facebook, Feminism, Yahoo

Looking Forward, Reaching Back

By Carol Ingall

Having recently edited and contributed to a book about women who “reconstructed” American Jewish education, i.e., transplanted Mordecai Kaplan’s views on American Judaism into classrooms, children’s books, camps and women’s organizations, I’ve had to wrestle with the “F” word. Feminism is hard enough to define. What is Jewish feminism?

If feminism is about going where no woman has gone before, or about “tough cookies” who fought for equal pay for equal work, some of these women were surely feminists. Many of you must have seen the TED video featuring Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, urge women to demand a seat at the table. As I watched it, I thought of Sylvia C. Ettenberg, often the sole woman making administrative and educational decisions for the Jewish Theological Seminary in the 1950s and ’60s. When, during a break in a heated discussion, her colleagues retreated to the men’s room and solved a problem without her, she told them she’d go in with them if they pulled that stunt again.

If feminism is about access to power, and Jewish knowledge is Jewish power, all of these women featured in my book were Jewish feminists — from the settlement house workers who taught young immigrant women how to be Americans and Jews to Jessie Sampter, who brought Zionism, Jewish history and Hebrew to the first generation of Hadassah leaders to the more recent “pink collar revolutionaries,” who used synagogue gift shops and children’s books to create Jewish as well as American homes.

What I found missing in many of these women (and what was glossed over in Sandberg’s talk) was a responsibility to mentor other women.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mentoring, Mordecai Kaplan, Sheryl Sandberg, Jewish Feminism Series, Jewish Education, Jessie Sampter

Will Facebook Finally Put a Woman on Its Board?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

Here’s a status update Facebook probably won’t be happy about: Several dozen feminist activists are descending on the company’s Manhattan office to protest that not one woman sits on Facebook’s board of directors.

It is somewhat surprising, even given the board’s small size (7), since its second-higest-ranking executive at the social network company, COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a woman, and it doesn’t take much seichel (common sense) to know that it is smart to have a board of directors that does not consist solely of white men, particularly when you are preparing to take the company public.

“Women are 58 percent of Facebook users and are responsible for the vast majority of sharing on the network,” Nita Chaudhary, a co-founder of the women’s rights group Ultraviolet, which organized the protest. The 58% number comes from a PEW Internet and American Life Project study.

Ultraviolet launched in February in the wake of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The group has already had more than 300,000 people sign on to its petitions, Chaudhary said, on issues ranging from getting companies to drop their sponsorship of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program to wage discrimination.

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It's 5:30, and Sheryl Sandberg's Going Home

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

getty images
Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has come out of the closet. No, not that closet, but rather the one in which she’s been hiding the fact that she leaves the office each day at 5:30 p.m. so she can have dinner with her children.

In this new video, Sandberg says that she wasn’t confident enough, until the last year or two, to admit that she leaves at a reasonable hour in order to attend to her family life. It’s amazing that even a woman as powerful as Sandberg has felt a sense of shame about it, as if she wasn’t working hard enough, though as she says in this article, clearly she is working at all hours: “I feel guilty when my son says, ‘Mommy, put down the BlackBerry, talk to me’ and that happens far too often.”

Nothing is as powerful an influence on changing a culture than seeing people in power illustrate values like this.

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When Women Fail To Thrive, Who's To Blame?

By Elana Sztokman

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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg urges women to stay focused on their ambitions.

The list of top earners in Israel’s publicly traded companies was published last week by Yediot Aharanot’s Mamon magazine. There is only one woman on the list: Stella Handler.

She’s the director of the cable network Hot, and Handler stands out for her gender, with a salary of 14.82 million NIS annually (approximately $4 million). That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but it’s also 30% less than the top guy on the list, mall-magnate David Azrieli, who makes the equivalent of $5.7 million a year.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, on which Israel ranks 55th in the world, Israel has a ratio of 88:100 women to men in the economy.

Today Israeli women are getting undergraduate educations at rates on par with their male counterparts. Yet they are not making it to the top of the economy. The question is what is happening inside companies and organizations? Why are women failing to thrive?

There are two ways to address this question. One places the onus on women, and one places onus on surrounding cultures.

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Advice for the '$1.6 Billion Woman'

By Elana Sztokman

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Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is about to become a very rich woman — and I’m really happy about it. The world needs more rich women, especially women who understand the importance of empowering other women.

The New York Times called Sandberg the “$1.6 billion woman,” based on the anticipated public offering of Facebook, where Sandberg is COO.

Sandberg, who has been a strong, vocal advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace, is actually one of the few women on top in Facebook. Tellingly, there are no women on the Facebook board, and Sandberg is the highest ranking woman in the company — number four from the top. Of the 10 most senior positions in the company, only three are held by women.

Certainly Sandberg has a reputation for promoting women’s successes at work — helping working mothers to find creative schedules and day care, encouraging women to be powerful and assertive, building a culture in which women’s real, complicated lives and concerns are welcomed rather than dismissed as signs of women’s lack of professionalism. But when it comes to women’s equality all the way to the top, the Facebook record remains mixed.

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On the Air, Jewish Women Talk Ambition, Sports, Circumcision

By Gabrielle Birkner

The Sisterhood, of course, isn’t the only place where “Jewish women converse.” The blog also co-produces with Lilith magazine a Women’s Roundtable podcast. And Forward editor Jane Eisner co-hosts with Rachel Sklar The Salon, a Jewish Channel television show that brings together Jewish women with a wide range of perspectives.

On the latest Women’s Roundtable, the life and legacy of pioneering feminist E.M. Broner, the San Francisco ballot measure that would outlaw circumcision and misbehaving (male) politicians are the topics that Lilith editors Susan Weidman Schneider, Rabbi Susan Schnur and Sonia Isard join me to discuss.

Meanwhile on the bat mitzvah edition of The Salon, the panelists explore some of the subjects that have been hot recently on The Sisterhood, including the Orthodox basketball star who wears her religious observance on her sleeves and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s views on women and ambition. They also weigh in on the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal and the implications for the Jewish community of New York’s new same-sex marriage law. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly; Michelle Goldberg, a columnist for The Daily Beast and Tablet, and Ilene Beckerman, the author/illustrator of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” talk with Jane and Rachel.

Listen to The Women’s Roundtable here.

And watch the trailer for 13th episode of The Salon below:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Salon, Susan Weidman Schneider, Susan Schnur, Sonia Isard, Sheryl Sandberg, Naama Shafir, Michelle Goldberg, Julie Schonfeld, Ilene Beckerman, E.M. Broner, Circumcision, Anthony Weiner

How Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Breaks the 'Girl Executive' Mold

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Barnard College/Asiya Khaki
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

The lead story in the current issue of The New Yorker is a compelling profile of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Ken Auletta wrote the wide-ranging piece on Sandberg, who is Jewish, and includes a bit about her recent speech to the women graduating from Barnard College, which also got attention in Elissa Strauss’ recent Sisterhood post.

Auletta’s piece is an incisive look at one of the most powerful women in American business today and why she doesn’t have more company at the highest corporate levels. He analyzes some of the factors women face in business — from blatant sexual advances to more subtle forms of discrimination.

He quotes Marie Wilson, founder of The White House Project, who points out that Norway requires public companies to have at least 40 percent of their directors be men, and 40 percent women. That government can and should create realities that benefit both men and women is an important point, though one Sandberg has little control over.

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Making Work More Humane, Balance More Feasible

By Sarah Seltzer

Ah, women and ambition. If I could untie this knot, I’d be on national tour with my bestselling self-help book.

Elissa, in this Sisterhood post, is right, of course, that the issues brought up by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in her recent speeches, as vital as they ar, (and as much as I felt personally touched and invigorated by them), are missing a piece — that is, social and political will to improve women’s lives by making paid maternity leave mandatory, by passing anti-discrimination and sick leave measures that would allow women to charge ahead while also caring for kids, aging relatives, and ourselves without getting penalized. Added to this, of course, are the unspoken social rules which affect women’s psyches and the perception of our behavior — rules about when it’s acceptable to look out for oneself first, when it’s acceptable to value advancement over loyalty, when it’s acceptable to demand more of your family, your friends, your boss.

And the missing piece that I’m referring to is the same piece that’s been long absent in media coverage of women’s advancement in the workplace and the never-ending “mommy wars.”

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What Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' Speech Left Out

By Elissa Strauss

Barnard College/Asiya Khaki
Sheryl Sandberg at Barnard commencement, 2011.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent Barnard commencement address has become one of the most popular of the season. It has been linked to a quoted all over the Internet; the Forward excerpted it and so, too, did The New York Times. And right on.

Sandberg gave a no-nonsense, no apologies plea for feminine ambition. She reminded the class of 2011 that despite gains in education — she said that women have been 50% of college graduates since 1981 — men still run the world:

Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.

Sandberg’s two main pieces of advice to remedy gender inequality are for women to “think big” and believe in themselves, and to not prematurely curtail our ambitions because of the work/life choices we might have to make down the line when we have children.

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