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How Sheryl Sandberg Stole My Saturday: A #LeanInTogether Story

Patrick Ball
Oct. 26, 2017
Lean In Together is bringing the gender equality message to men in ways they'll understand and act on.

Watching a 20-minute video on gender equality is pretty close to the last way I expected to spend Saturday morning, but I guess that’s the plan.

And also why it’s so fantastic.

Growing up with three younger sisters, plus my mom and dad, my household was two-thirds female. Ratio’s probably about the same at my job. My wife has earned more than me every year since college. Yet gender equality’s not something I’d ever thought all that much about.

Crazy, right? Maybe I’ve been gender blind. And maybe that’s been my problem.

So here, on a Saturday morning in my sports- and snark-heavy Twitter timeline, was FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver chatting with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about her new #LeanInTogether campaign. This guy, famous for making math palatable for sports fans and his prescient election predictions, was talking about the difference between being “gender blind” and “gender aware” on his grand, ESPN-backed stage.

And I was listening.

That’s what’s great about #LeanInTogether. It’s not just challenging men to “lean in” for gender equality; it’s bringing the message to men, in ways that they’ll—that we’ll—digest and understand.

It’s like the ultimate honey-do list for gender equality. (I kid. I kid.)

For #LeanInTogether, Sandberg’s top level partners are ESPN, the NBA and the WNBA. Stars like Steph Curry and LeBron James talking about being an “All-Star Dad” and leaning in for their wives, daughters, mothers and grandmothers. And sites like FiveThirtyEight, where the audience skews young and male, are acting as a microphone for frank conversations about gender equality.

It’s not just about how they’re spreading the message about what Lean In means, though. It’s the way they’re following through with the why and the how.

#LeanInTogether is providing actionable tips, presented through real situations and solutions, for improving gender equality at home and at work. Like how men can be a 50/50 partner to their wives and close the wage gap at home by giving girls and boys equal chores. How men at work can share office housework and make work work for all parents.

So, I said I was kidding about the honey-do list, but I’m kinda not.  

For many men, myself included, this kind of specific, reasonable and actionable communication is exactly what we need. This, I think, is the point Silver and Sandberg were making around the difference between being gender blind and gender aware.

The awareness part is key: How many dads wouldn’t help with the dishes and homework if they knew how profound an impact even these little things have on their children’s development?

“We have to be aware, and then we have to tell people what they can do,” Sandberg said during the interview with Silver. “So Lean in together is about being aware that it’s unequal. Being aware that equality is good for men, but then real tips – practical things, a list, here’s what you can do to make a difference in your home or work.”

Maybe the best part about #LeanInTogether is how ready we are for it.

In February, on what is perhaps the manliest day of the year – Super Bowl Sunday – three major brands aired sentimental dad ads, tugging at our heartstrings with sentimental messages that reflected evolving views of masculinity and the increased desire among dads to be breadwinners and caregivers. And we loved them.

Numerous studies in recent years, including the BC Center for Work and Family’s fantastic “The New Dad” series, have shown the trend toward men increasingly taking on more caregiving responsibilities as women share in the breadwinner role. Research has also connected the involvement of dads in their child’s lives – from taking paternity leave to doing dishes – to future career success of their children and their wives.

As Sandberg said: “When we get to more equality in our workforce, our economies grow faster and our companies do better. … When we get to more equality in our homes, we have happier marriages, happier relationships and more successful and happier and healthier children.”

So what will you do? Men, how will you start Leaning In to support gender equality? Women, how likely to you think your spouse will be to Lean In at home? Tell us in the comments below.

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