Sheryl Sandberg's Heartbreaking 'Lean In Less' Facebook Post Is Very Important

'I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home'

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Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the incredibly popular 'Lean In,' has posted a heartfelt and entirely important message on her Facebook page. 

'Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead' for many of my generation, has developed textbook status.

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For those of us in Gen Y - who have enough feminist guilt about the pressure to succeed, but have also lived through the age of austerity, where vast swathes of university educated people are over-qualified for fewer and fewer well paid jobs - advice-giving tomes like Sheryl's or Karren Brady's 'Strong Woman' have felt like a lifeline. 

Although the number of women reaching board-level positions in corporate industries is still shockingly low, the few women that make CEO or COO status - Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer and Ariana Huffington, for example - all have very strong opinions on what other women need to do to follow suit.

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Sheryl's 'Lean In' focused on the personal side of making it to the top; women need to have a keen sense of ambition, the determination to overcome all obstacles and the self-confidence to go toe-to-toe with the boys. Karren Brady's book was full of quiet stoicism, while Marissa Meyer only took two weeks maternity leave, which was assumed as something of a template for other women in the industry.

The throughline has seemed to be: get your head down, keep your personal life to yourself, don't take career breaks and be dogged in the pursuit of your goals.

This sort of thinking has, of course, been successful for lots of people.

The problem with it, though, is that it is totally unbending, making no allowances for the various struggles of different women and also the fact that most industries are still biased, whether consciously or unconsciously, against women climbing their ranks. 

Sheryl's Mother's Day Facebook post is a dramatic recalibration of her position and it is important for a few reasons. 

Mourning the sudden death, in 2015, of her husband Dave Goldberg, she admits in her post that: 'Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.'

She continues: 'I realize how extremely fortunate I am not to face the financial burdens so many single mothers and widows face. Poverty is one of the hidden and devastating aftereffects of loss for women.'

And she concludes: 'We need to rethink our public and corporate workforce policies and broaden our understanding of what a family is and looks like.' 

Firstly, it is important to celebrate Sheryl's bravery, for publically admitting she might not have been completely right the first time round.

We've moved on from a never apologise, never explain culture to realising that there's a power in admitting when we're wrong and making mistakes. Women have been under particular pressure to be infallible, so it's great to see a woman say 'hey, I got it wrong, and that's okay.'

And secondly, her final point is vital: while personal ambition and a 'go getting' attitude is to be encouraged, there are still bigger obstacles standing in the way of women's career success and it is our responsibility to future generations to effect a more systemic change in the way we hire, promote and nurture women who are juggling careers with complicated personal lives. 

Tell us your thoughts on Twitter @ELLEUK!

Images: Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer, GETTY and REX

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