Lean Out to Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

In March, 2013 Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote Lean In – a book about how women can have more successful careers. Since then almost every mum who has or had a professional career, has read the book or intends to read it. Those who have read it have had very clear opinions about the book. Many are inspired, others are critical, still others think Sheryl does not represent them because she is white and comes from an affluent family.

The lean in concepts Sheryl lays out are not new. Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office (published 2004), Ask For It (published 2008) are two very good reads if you want to learn a lot more about leaning in at work. However where Sheryl’s book strikes a chord is her struggle to find a balance between responsibilities at home and those at work. The traditional family setup where mum takes care of the house and kids, and dad earns the bacon is slowly going away. There are good reasons for this change, but it makes the lives of both parents a bit more hectic. It also introduces a new conflict at home. As the wife takes on more bread winning responsibilities she expects the husband to take on more domestic and childcare responsibilities. But these parallel transitions haven’t happened at the same pace – so that women with careers are still shouldering more than half their share of domestic and childcare work – according to Sheryl 40% more childcare and 30% more housework in the US. In India, where I grew up, the numbers are worse. Women do 10x more childcare and 30x more housework.

It’s clear that if women want to lean in at work, they first need to lean out at home. Sheryl talks about this when she says we need to make our partners true partners. But there are road blocks to bringing this change. 1. The husband’s resistance to picking up more work. 2. The wife’s reluctance to handing over responsibilities. 3. The judgements cast by society on families where this change is happening. It is hard to change #3 overnight, but I realised the in my house we could change the first two.

So I started with a detailed list of all the childcare and housework chores we do every week. I included everything – cooking, nursery pickup and dropoffs, grocery runs, brushing my daughter’s teeth, combing her hair, and so on. Against these chores I put down the time it took to complete the chore and the frequency at which the chore needed to be done. For example:

Cook lunch: 45-minutes/meal, 7 times/week.
Pay Water Bills: 15 minutes/bill, once/month.

Then using excel’s easy formulas I calculated how much this amounted to on a weekly basis.

Cook lunch: 0.75 (3/4th of an hour) x 7 (days per week) = 5.25 hrs/week
Pay bills: 0.25 (1/4th of an hour) ÷ 4.33 (average number of weeks per month) = 0.08 hrs/week.

LeanOutExcelNow that I had all the average weekly numbers, I added them up to see how much work my husband and I had to handle each week. The answer shocked me.

All our housework and childcare amounted to 74 hours of work each week! That was the equivalent of two fulltime jobs. No wonder my husband and I were always struggling.

The realisation of how much work there was helped me understand why my husband and I felt overburdened and sometimes even resentful that the other person wasn’t doing more. This list became the starting point of a new conversation between us. Our lean out process didn’t start with me transferring responsibilities to him but with figuring out how we could reduce the overall burden. We realised that we were duplicating grocery runs. Out went individual visits to the grocery and in came coordinated Ocado deliveries – same cost, more coordination, less overall work. We also discussed what we could further outsource. The cook was asked to work one extra hour each week, this saved us three hours per week. My daughter started going to nursery five days a week, instead of the fours days she was doing earlier.

Some changes did not involve spending more money but just a switch in responsibilities. My husband started dropping off my daughter at nursery. This added half an hour each day to his work load, but saved an hour and half of my time. Eager to leave with her father, my daughter has become much more cooperative at getting dressed in the morning. What used to take 90 minutes now takes 20-30 minutes. A net gain of 5 hours per week. We had already reduced our weekly workload to 64 hours, most of which was my time.

The next step in leaning out was to transfer responsibilities to my husband. Handing over responsibility doesn’t mean getting your partner to do things your way, but accepting his way of doing things – for the rest of your life. So this part was about letting go. Deciding how critical it was for me to have the forks and knives laid face up in the dishwasher or how much it mattered if my daughter wore a dress back side front.

My husband and I are still figuring out the redistribution of responsibilities. But the tone of our conversation has definitely changed from one that bordered on resentful to a collaborative one, and I attribute this to what I now call the “Lean Out Spreadsheet”. There is a recognition that we are not trying to dump work on each other, but each struggling to keep up with the growing demands of work and parenthood.

Leaning out is not easy but it is an important part of leaning in. We do not have to be supermoms. It should be very easy for you to build your own excel sheet using the method I’ve described, but if you want I am happy to share mine. Please register with us (top right hand corner) for an email copy of my spreadsheet.


1. Discrimination while pregnant
2. Unexpected side effects of motherhood

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2 Responses to Lean Out to Lean In

  1. Shefali says:

    If you register with us please leave a message requesting the spreadsheet. As this post gets older, it will be hard to tell who is just following and who wants a copy of the spreadsheet. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: The Five Secret Laws of Motherhood - EncycloKidia

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