Friday I had the opportunity to see Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speak at the Harvard Club of Boston. She was in town to promote her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Let me preface my comments with a preface:
1. Lean In the book had its roots in Sheryl’s 2010 TED talk. I’ve watched it a few times and shared it with a few important young women and teenagers in my life. I even referenced it in a talk I gave at Digitas once. But I hadn’t followed the more recent discussion around the subsequent book because, well, I’m busy. Much as I liked the original talk, I had encoded Sheryl’s book as the kind of gender-specific discussion that annoys me. As my friend Erika Napoletano wrote last week, “It’s time for the conversation to shift away from gender and to lean towards talent.” Yeah. What she said.
2. I’m incredibly busy at work these days, and catching Sheryl for breakfast meant I had to get up at the crack of crack, get dressed in grownup clothes, and sacrifice a few productive morning hours. That doesn’t sound like a big sacrifice, maybe, but it was. I suppose you could say that I had my own little Lean In moment of the day just getting out of bed.
3. Uncharacteristically (especially given #2), I parked myself in a seat right up front and center, almost directly in front of Sheryl. The seat was in the HubSpot section, the company that had graciously allowed me to come as their guest (thanks, Laura!) Dammit, if I’m up, dressed, and here… I’m going to get the best experience possible. Second Lean In moment of the day.
4. Finally, I started this post thinking it would be an email to a few young women and teenagers in my life who I wish had been with me. (This means you, Colleen, Amanda, Caroline!) Then I decided to share it more widely. There was such a great vibe in the room after Sheryl’s talk yesterday that I wanted to invite everyone there to a bar so we could hang out and talk. I suppose this post is my attempt at that.
Generally, Sheryl comes across at funny, smart, self-deprecating—qualities I happen to value in people. She was pretty clear on her objectives with her book: Shining a light on the lack of women in leadership roles to figure out why that’s so, with the ultimate goal of changing the data. But despite the serious topic, she doesn’t appear to take herself too seriously. Which I appreciate.
Some thoughts, with quotes from yesterday morning:
“We’re honored today because Sheryl’s parents are here.” —Host Jo Tango from Kepha Partners, in his introduction
Jo gives a shout out to Sheryl’s parents, Joel and Adele. They stand and beam at the room. It’s a sweet moment, not just because I’m imagining how full their hearts must be to so palpably witness their daughter’s success.
But because, at the same time, it immediately gives context to Sheryl as a person. We’re all someone’s child, of course. But she’s not just someone’s child: She’s the daughter of those two people, sitting right there. Lean In has attracted spirited discussion, because the issue of women and work, Sheryl later acknowledged, is personal. Her parent’s presence underscores that point: This is a personal issue for us.
“The blunt truth is, men still run the world, and I’m not sure that’s going so well.” —Sheryl Sandberg
This gets a laugh. But, more important, she supports her point with data: 30 years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the US, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions. Only 21 Fortune 500 CEOs are women… women hold 14 percent of executive officer jobs… 20 percent of our Congressmen are women… 17 percent of corporate board seats are held by women… women earn 77 cents for every dollar men make. Like all good content, her talk—and book—are rooted in fact, not merely opinion. Not just feeling. And the data tells the story that something is off.
I feel like I want to repeat that last line, for emphasis. So I will: Like all good content, her talk—and book—are rooted in fact, not merely opinion. Not just feeling. And the data tells the story that something is off.
“Progress turns with every woman who leans in. And… with every man who leans in.” —Sheryl Sandberg
This audience is overwhelmingly female; perhaps 20 percent of the audience is male (including, surprisingly for me, my friend Jerry, a venture capitalist.) More data here: Most mothers handle 40 percent more child care and 30 percent more housework than fathers… just 9 percent of people in dual-career households say they equally share parenting and household jobs… public policy reinforces the gender bias. Her bottom line: At home, make your partner an equal partner.
In the book, Sheryl adds: Avoid “maternal gatekeeping,” the impulse women have to tell fathers, “That’s not how you cut a sandwich! Just let me do it.” Or insert almost any task for the “sandwich” business.
That sounds dumb… but, actually, I’ve been controllingly guilty of it. I grok the need for a mother to be at the nerve center of a family, and I suspect that my impulse isn’t unique to me.
My female friends often carry some measure of maternal guilt—in that they could be better somehow as a mother (more responsive, or more loving, or somehow more more). Very few of my men friends appear to harbor that same guilt. Or maybe they just don’t express it. As Sheryl said, women tend to predict their success at slightly below average; men tend to predict it as slightly above average. She was talking about the school and the workplace, but I wonder whether it applies to parenting. And life, for that matter.
“No one is more efficient and effective than a mother.” —Sheryl Sandberg
She was kind of kidding here. But only just. Since Sheryl’s audience yesterday was stuffed with people from VCs and tech startups, she suggested that the people in the room are those who can lead the charge to help women navigate through the childbearing years. Many companies try to essentially ignore the topic, because they fear they’ll discriminate. “That’s not working,” she said.
Her sound bit got a round of applause. But the soundbite felt a little like pandering. Clearly mothers are capable and productive. But so are fathers. So are women who don’t have children of their own. It seems slightly counter to the notion above, that we need to stop encoding based on gender, and more on talent and potential.
“If you have daughters, put them in computer scientist programs, get them an iPad, let them play more computer games.” —Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl recounts a story about enrolling her seven-year-old son in a computer programming class. Even in Silicon Valley, only 5 of the 35 enrolled children were girls (and two of them had been urged by Sheryl to take the class). I think of my own daughter, who has an interest in and affinity for technology. And I have a pang of realization that I’ve never suggested she lean into that, although I suspect it was more to do with my own humanities bias than a gender bias. But ,then again, maybe not. Now I’m alternating between tweeting sound bites and texting them to my teenage daughter, who I very much wish were here.
“People who can most help women reach for opportunities are the women themselves.” —Sheryl Sandberg
Feeling smug because I sat in that front-row seat. Realizing that’s not quite what she means. But still, I’ve had moments of sitting on the edge, figuratively speaking. I’ve had moments – some quite recent – of conceding the floor to a (generally louder, more aggressive) man. Make a mental note to pay closer attention to my own behavior.
“When you want to change things, you won’t please everyone.” —Sheryl Sandberg
Great perspective on being effective vs. being “liked,” and one that resonates with me because I tend to be a pleaser. Your point of view will probably tick off somebody off, Sheryl says.
I think there’s a middle ground to this one: There’s an ocean of difference between being an opinionated asshole and opinionated consensus-builder. I wish more of us fell into the latter group. (And by “more of us” I mean “human beings.” Not “people in this room” or “women.”)
“I hope my book is just the beginning.” —Sheryl Sandberg
The goal of her book, she said, was to start a conversation, not to present a simple and neat solution to a complex problem. I’ve seen the signs she references that are pasted around Facebook’s Menlo Park offices: “Perfect is the enemy of good” (Voltaire) and “Done is better than perfect.” From that same spirit comes Lean In, because the first step to change is… well, a step.
Ultimately what does Sheryl want? “I’d like to see the data change.” Yup.
I started out this post admitting that the gender-specificity of Lean In troubles me a little. But the data tells the story that something is off. And I think the book is igniting a discussion worth having—for both our daughters and our sons.
I come to terms with it like this: I interpret that Sheryl’s broader message is that we need to challenge our assumptions and expectations both with our (collective) sons and with our daughters, to create more opportunities for people, period. In that way, Lean In seems the next iteration of something Anna Quindlen wrote 25 years ago: “Have you ever noticed that what passes as a terrific man would only be an adequate woman?”
Sheryl’s is a far more evolved message. And, ultimately, it’s far more positive.
Lynn Dorman says
Wow – my head is reeling with ideas and I can think of so many comments to make about your post – but I think I will keep it short and just say THANK YOU!!
Mindy Fried says
Thanks for this candid piece, Ann! I always value that your bring a third eye in how you view the world, including this experience… Here’s my quick take on Sheryl Sandberg’s book/message: She is endearingly honest and forthright; uses real data about the gendered workplace; and has an important role to play as a “woman at the top”, aimed at consciousness raising. Where her narrative is weaker is at the systemic level. The full picture looks at universal policies (e.g., pay equity, paid parental leave, flex work policies, universal child care) that change the playing field for women and men. Think Ann Marie Slaughter’s article, if we’re looking at this message from a “woman at the top”. There are many sharp researchers and policy types who have pushed for these things for decades, but they don’t get the air time that Sheryl gets. How can we make sure that the message addresses the micro level (how we as women – and men – play it out IN the workplace) and at the macro level (how policy sets the foundation for a sea change in behavior)?
Ann Handley says
@Mindy: I agree with you, which is why I added the bit about how “Lean In” is a high-profile conversation starter, and not a neatly packaged solution to a complex problem. She’s using her high profile weblebrity status to give this issue some air time — something she didn’t *have* to do, which I think is worth remembering, especially given the criticism she’s attracted. That’s helped bring the issue to the forefront of teens and young adults, which I like to believe will trickle into the micro level. Rather, I hope.
Andrea Cook says
Thank you for taking the time and sharing your experience. Cheers to “this is just the beginning…” – Andrea Cook
Sarah Kuglin says
Thanks Ann for making the point that this book is a conversation starter. I had the same feelings you spoke of in the beginning. After reading this I am excited about the future and ready to read the book! Thanks for being one of the wonderful women who inspired others as well 🙂
Mindy Fried says
@Ann – Love the dialogue! Yes, I agree that it’s great that Sheryl is opening the dialogue – and while I have my criticisms (doesn’t look at the macro picture re policies that affect ALL women, not just professional women), it’s important that’s she’s (re-)started the conversation about women being more assertive in the workplace. The fact that she’s willing to expose her own insecurities/vulnerabilities makes it even more accessible. But it does get me thinking about the need to reignite a conversation about universal policies that affect all women, including the thousands in low-paid, dead-end jobs.
In my own research on parental leave use in a large financial services corporation, I found that upper-level women didn’t use the policy, largely because they either didn’t have kids (why, we can ask) or they waited until they were older before going after the top jobs. Middle-manager women used less time than they were legally allowed to take, and women in lower-level jobs took the least amount of leave time. Men used their 2-week vacation time after the birth or adoption of a new baby. What I found was that the culture of the workplace rewarded time put into the job, and not time “taken” away from the job for parenting (ergo, the book is called: Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture)…
So yes – Sheryl’s message is a powerful one, and as I see it, an important part of a two-fold message that includes an argument, a plea, a movement even (!) for a set of universal family policies that provide a foundation to level the playing field for women and men in the workplace.
Thank you for writing and being a role model for both of my daughters! 🙂
Ann Handley says
Thanks, Andrea @ Sarah. Appreciate it.
Eileen — You too. 🙂
Ann Handley says
Love it, @mindy. And I’m so glad to hear your voice in this conversation again. You have such deep knowledge and broad perspective — I think you need to write more on this (again), and I’m so glad to hear your valuable perspective!
Mindy Fried says
Thanks, @ann. I was missing “annarchy” and your blogging voice, so I’m happy to be here! 😉
Andrea Learned says
Ann – thanks so much for doing this. I, like you, have not had time to read the book, but have been hearing a ton about it via SXSW panels, and many other related articles. Two of the points you highlight really mean a ton to me. Those are – 1) Sheryl’s point about how women have to lean in and so do men,…to your mention of it being less around gender than around their talent and potential. Yay! 2) Your point calling out the reality that talking about how effective “mothers” are is a bit off, because there are a lot of people – like me! – who never had kids but have talent and potential to burn and are excited about sharing whatever wisdom they’ve accumulated.
Given that Sandberg’s book is controversial (or, at least causing heated discussion), thoughtful, balanced perspective like yours is really refreshing and needed.
Samantha McGarry says
Great write-up Ann. Funnily enough I had the same “yeah yeah” attitude about the topic. I’ve always thought that success is only dependent on you, not your gender. It’s very easy to bash men and use them as an excuse. Each of us determines our own success, whether you lean in, out or stand up straight. But what struck me most about Friday’s breakfast was Sandberg’s comments about daughters and computer games being a gateway to coding and consequently, a well-paid, sought-after career. It kind of blew my mind. So much so, I too, blogged. If you care to read it, it’s here: http://samanthamcgarry.com/2013/04/07/on-sheryl-sandberg-daughters-ipads-a-more-equal-future/
Mindy Fried says
Do I dare continue this dialogue?! Well… one more thing (I guess!). I don’t have a young child (anymore…!), but I do have a 21-year-old who is following her bliss and looking for jobs in arts administration. Need I say that her job options are less remunerative than engineering jobs? I’ll all for encouraging girls (and boys) to have more exposure to STEM activities (science technology engineering and math), which opens the gateway to STEM jobs. And I think it’s intriguing, Sheryl did, to link playing video games as a precursor to “coding comfort”. Many years ago, when I was consulting to the Air Force, a 4-star general told a group I was with that he felt Nintendo was great for kids because it gave them the early precursor skills they needed to be pilots.
The reality is that professions that are dominated by men pay more, and those that are dominated by women pay less (e.g., programming vs. coding, doctoring vs. nursing, tenure track teaching job vs teaching kindergarten). One strategy is to encourage more women to pursue the higher paid STEM jobs, and I’m all for that. But this doesn’t address the de-valuing of jobs that are more “gender-coded” like teaching, nursing, and anything that reeks of caregiving work. One interesting phenomenon is that when men begin to enter a profession, the wage rates go up over time, and vice versa (secretarial work used to be male-dominated, for example). So what about my daughter? I’m thrilled that she’s following her passion, and at the same time, it would be awesome if her chosen field (the arts) were more valued financially in our society! 😉
Great starting place for a conversation. So many insightful things already said that I don’t have much to add than except to mention that “Drew Barrymore Says Women Can’t Have It All” has an interesting point of view and uhm, well….Penelope Trunk posted some articles on the subject that are not terrible inflammatory. As always, delightful to have you pop up in my feed. Now, I must read the book. 😀
Joanne Macdonald says
I appreciate your review and found your feelings about the gender focus of Sandberg’s book interesting. By comparison, I would’ve liked to hear more in the book that spoke to the need for women to lean in across all aspects of life – not just the workplace. The book was written for corporate women (which I am) but also has a strong and valuable message for women not looking to get into the higher ranks of a corporation. Since completing the book I’ve also been contemplating the notion of when and how I can simply “lean back” for a while in the workplace. I’ve been leaning far in for a long while and to be honest am exhausted from doing so. The book did not inspire or encourage me to take time to lean back from my job at times in my life when it feels right to instead lean further in on other areas of life, fitness, family, community and other priorities. I’d love to see a follow on that dove deeper into this important area of the conversation.
Jill Rowley says
I was like you, Ann. I didn’t Lean In..to the conversation until I heard the data from Kellie McElhaney of the Haas School of Business while attending my THIRD Women Innovators Network luncheon and AFTER I moderated a ‘Women in Tech’ panel discussion hosted by GirlyGeeks and the Salesforce.com’s Women’s Network during Dreamforce 2012. I never wanted to be held back or promoted based on the fact that I am a female. I never wanted to be part of any women’s libber feminist movement. I never wanted an employer to think it was going to be more difficult to have me as an employee because I am a woman. When I heard the data from Kellie, I knew I had to get involved. We can improve our economy by having more women in Senior Leadership positions. So, when I asked to do a radio show in November 2012 – Why Don’t Women in Business Take Credit for Their Achievements? – I went searching for more information on the topic and was thrilled to find Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk. http://blog.salesleadmgmtassn.com/2012/11/why-dont-women-in-business-take-credit-for-their-achievements.html.
Joanne – I’d be happy to connect with you on your desire to “lean back.” I’ve been in software sales for 13 years, almost always the #1 or #2 Sales Rep, won the 2011 Employee of the Year Award, and the 2012 Stevie Award for Best Sales Rep of the Year. My average income for the past six years has been around $500k and I just received a multi-million dollar check from Oracle acquiring my company, Eloqua (which I spent almost 11 years building). I’ve achieved the two money goals I set for myself. So, I’d say that’s an A+ in my career. Thing is, I’m a wife, mom of four, daughter, sister, aunt and a niece. I wish I had more time for friendships. While I’ve been Leaning In at work, I’ve been missing out on a lot at home. At best, I get a B- as a mom and maybe a C+ as a wife. So, I decided to make a pivot in my career and take a job that allows me better balance. Monday will be Day 6 @ Oracle – evangelizing & teaching Social Selling to our 23,000 (and growing) Sales Reps. I’m having a VERY hard time leaning back because I have a vision of transforming Oracle into a Social Business – not just transforming our sales team into Modern Sales Professionals. http://blog.eloqua.com/abcssocialselling/. I’m on the advisory board of two early-stage start-ups and getting requests to join more. I’m trying to yes to more of the things I wasn’t doing while being on a Quarterly quota for the past 52 quarters, like attending the morning session of my 2nd grader’s Teach the World to Sing Production (AND not checking email, tweeting, commenting and sharing on LinkedIn and Facebook posts). My husband gave me a year’s membership at a small, local gym where I can work out with a personal trainer 3 days a week and I’m doing it. I would go on 5 mile runs and be on conference calls, reading articles and blog posts, tweeting, commenting, and sharing information across my social channels. Exercise was supposed to be my therapy, my time for my mental health and I justified my craziness with “well, I’m a multi-tasking career woman who is a mom of four.” So, please pray for me as I try to improve my grades in the areas I’m not performing as well as I have been in my career for the past 19 years.
There are three additional books/resources I want to share that helped me figure out some things: 1) the book “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand” – this book helped me get clarity on my Purpose, which is to enrich other people’s careers; 2) the book “The Start-Up of You” – I initially thought this would be a book about LinkedIn because Reid Hoffman is a co-author, and boy was I wrong! This should be required reading for High School kids; and 3) Clay Christensen’s book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” You can listen to a talk he gave at LinkedIn on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DwYcNr0Nuw. Minutes 30-32 and minutes 43-46 gave me clarity on why I pick work over family way too often and why I need to change! Understanding the measure (of life) will have a profound impact on what you will do with your life, the choices you will make, the direction you will decide to take!
Thanks Ann for sharing and encouraging us to do the same!
Keith Sims says
I have your book, Content Rules, on my writing desk. It really is a great book, and I’ve learned some invaluable ideas from its contents. Sandberg starts her talk with the joke about things not going so well with men in charge. Yes, men have surely made a mess of things; however, by all accounts women don’t do that much better when given the reins. I believe that results from the absolute corruptibility that comes with having power (I can’t remember the source, but there was a recent report that women in positions of power aren’t sharing it with potential mentees). Men and women are different, but not different in that respect. Look at the punitive nature of speech coming out of the political arena, whether it be from the likes of Palin and Bachman, or Rodham-Clinton and Waters. Their speeches are often laced with bits of punitive vitriol. I don’t know if we as a culture will ever get beyond such stereotypical thinking–much like our current attitudes towards racism–as long as there are those who have vested interests in pursuing agendas of exclusion. There is still enough of a dreamer in me to believe that we can do better. I very much enjoy your posts. Your hectic schedule notwithstanding, I wish there were more of them.
Amy Vernon says
Love this, Ann – I know there are many women who don’t like Sandberg for their own specific reasons, and that’s cool. The world would be boring if we all liked the same things, same people & same opinions. But I appreciate the sane conversation that people are having surrounding this. It’s not filled with the same vitriol so often seen in conversations surrounding women in leadership. I really would like to see her speak at some point. Gotta find out when she’s in NYC.
Kirk Petersen says
Insightful as always, Ann. My favorite line: “There’s an ocean of difference between being an opinionated asshole and opinionated consensus-builder.” Sounds kinda like something a guy would say [ducking].
In the comments, Mindy Fried states that male-dominated jobs tend to pay more than female-dominated jobs, and that wage rates go up over time when men enter a profession. She singles out “care-giving” jobs, and the implication is that such jobs pay less because they are female-dominated.
But I think this reverses cause and effect. I can’t support this next bit with data, but it seems likely that women disproportionately are drawn to care-giving jobs because women are, in the aggregate, more predisposed to nurturing than men are.
And care-giving jobs pay modestly because they are inherently less scalable than many other types of jobs. One person can only provide personal care to a limited number of “customers”. If a salesperson, for example, can identify more customers and persuade them to buy, he (or she) can go from 10 customers to 100 with much less incremental cost than, say, a childcare provider.
Finally, Ann, I love ya, but light orange link text on a white background drives me nuts. I don’t think this is a male-female thing, but I bring it up anyway.
Ann Handley says
@samantha – thanks for that link to your site! Hadn’t seen the video, either. Thank you.
@Katybeth – Just wanted to give you a shout here! Thanks as always. Great seeing you here again, too. 🙂
Ann Handley says
@keith — Interesting comments. Thanks for chiming in here. I’m not sure I totally agree with your comment. But however we might feel about political motivations… it still seems to me that an imbalance is an imbalance. The data is still telling a story that something is off.
Ann Handley says
@amy — Definitely worth hearing her, when you get a chance. I can’t say I’m a wholesale fan girl, but I do respect what she’s done. And I respect that she stuck her neck out… when she certainly didn’t have to.
Ann Handley says
@Kirk — “Finally, Ann, I love ya, but light orange link text on a white background drives me nuts. I don’t think this is a male-female thing, but I bring it up anyway.”
I know! It’s horrible. I’m in the midst of a redesign and relaunch. It’s going away soon… thanks for your patience while we rebuild!
And to your other point — I hope Mindy chimes in here. Because she is the workplace expert on this stuff…. but do you think it’s really about scale? Seems simplistic. But maybe you’re right. I really don’t know.
Keith Sims says
I certainly did not mean to imply that an imbalance does not exist. I agree with you entirely about data that shows this to be the way things are, but I do believe that human nature will out regardless of gender. BTW, I am a twenty-three year veteran of the nursing profession. I have spent my entire career working in a female dominated profession. I have no problems with this milieu. I like working around women for the simple reason that they are better listeners than men–unless I wax poetic about hunting or sports–and are generally more empathetic in their dealings with others.
I remembered the article I was referring to earlier. It was in the Mar 6 issue of WSJ.com and was titled “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee.”
Amy Vernon says
Yes, @Ann – exactly! I’m not a big fangirl, either, but I appreciate that she’s taken a stand and is speaking out. It takes all kinds. You don’t have to agree with all of them.
Kirk Petersen says
Ann, I don’t think it’s ALL about scale — that indeed would be way too simplistic. I didn’t make this clear in my comment. But I think scalability is an important factor — enough to keep professions like childcare from ever becoming lucrative.
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