SHERYL SANDBERG: Women Need To Get More Comfortable With Power

Sheryl Sandberg has quickly become an icon in the debate over women in the workplace.

At Business Insider’s IGNITION conference last year, she said that the most important career decision women make is whom they decide to marry. She also believes that we are in a “stalled revolution” for women. 

She talks about these and other controversial issues in her new book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Succeed,” which comes out next month. We’ve read the advance copy and have highlighted the best points below:

Women need to take more responsibility for their success

Sandberg argues that the biggest barrier between women and success is themselves: “I know some believe that by focusing on what women can change themselves — pressing them to lean in — it seems like I am letting our institutions off the hook. Or even worse, they accuse me of blaming the victim. Far from blaming the victim, I believe that female leaders are key to the solution.”

Societal norms and gender stereotypes have influenced how women “should” act for decades, but it’s up to women to redefine expectations, says Sandberg. This means actively “sitting at the table” and taking action rather than being observers in their careers. She gives a great example of what happened during a meeting with then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at Facebook a few years ago:

“Secretary Geitner’s team, all women, took their food last and sat in chairs off to the side of the room. … [They] had every right to be at this meeting, but because of their seating choice, they seemed like spectators rather than participants.”

Too many women get caught up in the “tiara syndrome,” she says, where they expect to get rewarded for good work rather than seizing opportunities. The only way to change the game is by “taking risks, choosing growth, challenging ourselves, and asking for promotions.” 

It comes down to having more self-confidence 

Self confidence is at the heart of what it means to lead, take risks and become powerful. 

It also comes easier for men. Sandberg talks about how even “to this day, I joke that I wish I could spend a few hours feeling as self-confident as my brother. It must feel so, so good — like receiving a cosmic flat one every day.” The same is true for her husband, Dave Goldberg — even amidst all of her success, she still describes him as more self-confident. 

Sandberg says that she observed how acutely gender dynamics can play out during a Q&A session at Harvard Business School:

“A number of men leapt to the microphone and posed thoughtful, big-picture questions like, ‘What did you learn at Google that you are applying at Facebook?’ and ‘How do you run a platform company and ensure stability for your developers?’ Then two women rose to the microphone. The first asked, ‘Do you think it’s OK to work for a company that competes with the company you worked for before business school?’ The second asked, ‘How can I get a mentor?’ My heart sank.

The men were focusing on how to manage a business and the women were focusing on how to manage a career. The men wanted answers and the women wanted permission and help.”

At the end of the day, many women need to think more ambitiously and see the bigger picture. “It’s hard to visualise someone as a leader, if she is always waiting to be told what to do,” Sandberg says.

Women should not ask for mentors

Sandberg says that she’s often been put in the awkward position of being asked to be a mentor to near strangers: “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no.” Instead, the logic everyone — both women and men — should use is, “excel and you will find a mentor.” 

Mentors and sponsors are crucial to success. But the relationships should develop more naturally and be more reciprocal than anything else. 

Sandberg talks about how Larry Summers become a mentor for her: “During my junior year of college, I took Larry Summers’s public sector economics class. He offered to supervise my senior thesis — something very few Harvard professors volunteer to do for undergraduates. Larry has been a major part of my life ever since.” 

Sandberg says she’s had several great male mentors in addition to Larry Summers. She credits Eric Schmidt for telling her years ago “not to be an idiot” and always to take jobs based on potential for growth (not stability), and Mark Zuckerberg for saying that you can’t please everyone — that will only hold you back.

Men must be open to change 

While women need to take responsibility for themselves, men of course also play a big role in creating a more equal world. Often it simply starts with a conversation. Sandberg shares a story about how she asked Sergey Brin to make a change at Google after a difficult morning running through parking lots while pregnant: 

“I found Sergey in a yoga position in the corner [of his office] and announced that we needed pregnancy parking, preferably sooner than later. He looked up at me and agreed immediately, noting that he had never thought about it before.”

Marriage should be 50/50

Beyond having male advocates in the workplace, it’s crucial to have an equal partnership at home, says Sandberg: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully — and I mean fully — supportive of her career. No exceptions.”

“Having it all” is a myth

Even with an equal partner at home, “having it all” is impossible, she argues. The “basic laws of economics and common sense” ensure that there will always be tradeoffs. Embracing a healthy lifestyle and accepting a support network is essential to coming as close to “having it all” as anyone can get.

But at the end of the day, Sandberg says one of her favourite mottos is “done is better than perfect” (which is also prominently displayed on the walls at Facebook): “I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.”   

There’s still a lot of work to do

Sandberg says we’ve still got an incredibly long way to go. She uses statistics to back this up: While women have made up 50 per cent of college grads since the 1980s, they are still paid only 77 cents to the dollar. They also only make up 21 of Fortune 500 CEOs. 

“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes,” she says. “I believe that this would be a better world.”

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