Chances are if you've pursued any kind of corporate career, you've felt the pressure to stay late at the office, to log the same number or more hours than your colleagues, even if it meant sacrificing time spent at home with your family or out with your friends or sitting at home in bed alone catching up on all the episodes of 30 Rock on your DVR. It's assumed that's what you have to do to succeed, but it turns out one of America's most successful businesswomen, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, leaves the office at 5:30 p.m. every day and isn't ashamed to say it. She wants you to do the same thing, but can you?
Here's what Sandberg had to say about leaving "early" in a video she did with Makers.com:
I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I'm home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I've been doing that since I had kids. I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it's not until the last year, two years that I'm brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn't lie, but I wasn't running around giving speeches on it.
First of all, its kind of sad that 5:30 p.m. is even considered early, when by all reasonable standards that should be the end of a full workday. Second, leaving to be with your kids is certainly a worthy activity, and it's great that she's figured out a way to be both tremendously successful professionally and have time to spend with her family. But, naturally, she said it wasn't easy to come to the place where she is now. In fact, leaving early often meant she ended up working more:
I was showing everyone I worked for that I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I'm much more confident in where I am and so I'm able to say, ‘Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.' And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally.
Many of us will identify with this need to prove to colleagues that we're pulling our weight. It's great that Sandberg feels confident enough that she doesn't have to prove her commitment to the job, but it's worth keeping in mind that Sandberg at this point is unimaginably wealthy and in an extremely powerful position. So, in that way, she can kind of do whatever she wants. If they fired her—which obviously they wouldn't—for leaving early, she has enough money to survive. And mostly people are reporting to her, so what are they going to do? Scold her for leaving when she wants? Yeah, when was the last time you gave your boss shit for leaving when he or she wanted to?
So, while it's certainly admirable that Sandberg is willing to speak up for the importance of prioritizing your family time, she's in a much more privileged position to do so than most. I wonder whether many of the junior level women of Facebook would feel quite so comfortable announcing they're heading home at 5:30 on the dot.
And the reality is, for many women—and men, for that matter—who work in competitive environments, this just simply isn't an option. You'd be putting yourself at too big a disadvantage. And that's not even considering all the people who are working two jobs or pulling overtime just to make ends meet. Certainly, if it's an option, it's great to encourage people not to feel guilty about leaving at a reasonable hour. But the bigger issue is getting to the point where it's the norm for more workers.
Part of the answer, obviously, is that once women have worked their way up into executive levels of companies, they can start to shape the corporate culture in ways that work better for them—and hopefully Sandberg is doing that at Facebook. Eventually, this means the corporate culture is more sane for everyone involved. But the other piece is that men need to feel just as inclined to leave on time, or women will always be at a partial disadvantage. The more childcare duties and financial burdens are shared equally between men and women, the easier this will be, of course, since everyone will feel compelled to rush home and relieve the babysitter, not just mom. But, even though we're obviously not there yet, at least it's encouraging to know that it's possible to be the COO of Facebook and still have dinner every night with your kids.