If I were to ask you what sense can you make of the words - women, work and a will to lead, you would immediately correlate these to successful,powerful women in leadership roles. While this is a no-brainer, why women in such roles are restricted more to theories than in practical scenarios is a question that needs attention, as very few women are actually making it to the top in their careers.
With an Economics degree from Harvard College and an MBA degree from Harvard Business School, Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook urges women to get to the top in their careers and be leaders, with her new book, Lean In (2013). The book was published this year in March and is on the top of the New York Times best seller list having sold about 275,000 copies already. Her TED talk in 2010, where she spoke on why very few women make it to the top in their careers, paved the way for this book. This video got over two million views since then. Sheryl Sandberg ranks 10th on the Forbes list of 'The World's 100 Most Powerful Women'.
'Lean In' is an inspiring read about women's presence in government, corporates, and nonprofit leadership positions.
Sandberg provides statistical data to corroborate her point that women make petty choices and choose to not get to top in their careers, even though they know they deserve it. The book is well-researched and combines data to support each point with anecdotes from her personal life. She provides an overview of her own life with her decisions, choices, career, mistakes etc. and gives advice on how women in the workforce should be more confident of themselves and value their potential to make it big in their careers. 'Lean In' is not preachy and has shades of humour as well.
Sheryl Sandberg begins her talk by making women in the audience realize that they are lucky to have fundamental rights. They have the freedom to make career choices, which were very limited earlier. Despite this, women are not making it to the top of any profession at anywhere in the world. Sheryl Sandberg supports her point with statistics that show:
- There are 190 heads of state out of which only 9 are women.
- Of all the people in the parliament in the world, only 13% are women.
- In the corporate world, there are only 13-15% women at the top in C-level jobs.
She says that these numbers have not moved since 2002 and are going in the wrong direction, which is disappointing. People assume that non-profit jobs are mostly held by women, however shockingly there are only 20% women at the top even there. Though the reasons as to why women rarely reach that top position in the workforce could be attributed to a myriad of reasons, one major reason that stares you in your face is the fact that women face a dilemma in choosing between their professional success and personal fulfillment.
Sheryl supports this by saying that in a group used to conduct this experiment showed that of married senior men and women managers, 2/3rd married senior managers with children as opposed to 1/3rd senior women mangers with children. A lot of women drop out because they feel guilty of leaving their children at home while they're at work.
The report from Grant Thornton shows that the number of women in senior positions has not changed much since 2004, it still hovers around 20 percent. The report, which looks at both listed and privately-held businesses, shows some interesting facts about what countries are the most progressive in promoting women to leadership roles.
WOMEN HOLD 21 PERCENT OF SENIOR MANAGEMENT POSITIONS GLOBALLY
MOST OF THE PROGRESS WOMEN MADE FROM 2004-2009
HAS BEEN UNDONE IN RECENT YEARS
RUSSIA HAS THE HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN IN
LEADERSHIP ROLES, WELL AHEAD OF THE EU AND NORTH AMERICA
THE US, UK AND GERMANY ARE AMONG THE BOTTOM
10 ECONOMIES WHEN IT COMES TO THE PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN IN SENIOR MANAGEMENT
WOMEN ARE MORE THAN TWICE AS LIKELY TO BE EMPLOYED IN SENIOR HR ROLES THAN AS CEOs
THERE IS NO CLEAR CORRELATION BETWEEN ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION, WHICH REFLECTS THE OVERALL NUMBER OF WOMEN IN THE LABOR MARKET, AND THE NUMBER OF FEMALES IN SENIOR MANAGEMENT
THERE IS NO STRONG CORRELATION BETWEEN WOMEN IN SENIOR ROLES AND THE AVAILABILITY OF FLEXIBLE WORK CULTURES
POSITIONS HELD BY WOMEN IN FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES
Introduction: Internalizing the Revolution
- The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do if You Weren't Afraid?
- Sit at the Table
- Success and Likeability
- It's a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder
- Are You My Mentor?
- Seek and Speak Your Truth
- Don't Leave Before You Leave
- Make Your Partner a Real Partner
- The Myth of Doing It All
- Let's Start Talking About It
- Working Together Toward Equality
While each chapter delves deeper into the subject, Sheryl elaborated on the following at the TED Conference in 2010 which serves as a precusor to her book:
- Sit at the table
- Make your partner a real partner
- Don't leave until you leave
The point that Sheryl Sandberg by asking women to 'sit at the table' is that women should feel confident of their potential at work. They should not undermine their capabilities because of their gender. She shared some interesting observations which add up to why women fear climbing up the corporate ladder and be right there at the top. A few of her observations are:
- Women systematically underestimate their own abilities. If you test men and women and you ask them questions on totally objective criteria like GPAs, men fair slightly better than women. Men attribute their success to themselves and women attribute success to other external factors. She explains this in an amusing way by saying that if a man is asked how he succeeded in a certain project, he would reply saying that he did so because he is awesome (like duh! why would you even ask), whereas if you would ask a woman this she would say that someone helped her, or she was just lucky or that she worked hard on it.
- Women do not negotiate for themselves in the workforce.
- A study of the last two years (approximately 2008 - 2010) reveals - Of all the students exiting college and entering the workforce, 57% men negotiate for themselves whereas only 7% women do.
- Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. She illustrates this by citing a famous case study of Heidi Roizen from Columbia Business School.
Particularly reflective of how things work in the real world is a Columbia Business School experiment where students were asked to read a case study about an entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen who became a successful venture capitalist by using her 'outgoing personality' and 'vast personal and professional network'.
Half the students read the case study with Roizen's real name. The other half read a doctored version where Heidi was changed to Howard.
The verdict: Heidi was selfish and not 'the type of person you would want to hire or work for'. And Howard? Now that was someone they'd like to have as a colleague. What a guy.
- Sheryl Sandberg opines that a woman won't get a promotion if she doesn't think she deserves the success and therefore women need to own their success. They should sit at the table and get the promotion.
Sandberg shares an anecdote in which a woman walked upto her after one of her speeches at Facebook and said she learned that in order to be noticed to express herself, she needed to raise her hand up more often. This comment befuddled Sheryl and she asked the woman what it meant. The woman explained that after addressing the audience, when Sandberg opened the floor for questions, she apprised everyone that she can take only two more questions. At this point, all women put their hands down including this woman. Sheryl eventually ended up taking more questions and these questions came from men. The woman pointed out that while all the other women had put their hands down, the men kept their hands still raised and so they got a chance to ask questions while the women did not.
Sheryl Sandberg admits that she was completely oblivious to this fact and somewhere feels guilty that at times we unintentionally do not allow women to reach the top.
Sheryl Sandberg revealed some noteworthy points to dwell upon that critically affect a woman's decision to continue to stay in the workforce.
- Data shows if a woman and a man work full-time and have a child, the woman does twice the amount of housework the man does and three times the amount of childcare the man does, so she's got three jobs to take care of while he has one.
- As a society we put more pressure on our boys to succeed at their workplace than we put on our girls.
- Men should realize that working inside the house is as much work as working outside at their workplace. This can ensure that we retain more women in the workforce.
- Studies show that households with equal earning and equal responsibility have half the divorce rate and enjoy married life much better.
The next important point that hinders a woman from actually wanting to grow professionally is the idea of getting married, having a family, nurturing her kids, being a good wife and mother. She thinks that her professional life might create an obstacle in her personal commitments. As a result of which, women start planning things too soon and eventually begin making room for that which leads to their dropping out of the workforce much before things actually happen. She doesn't look for a promotion, she doesn't get onto a new project, she doesn't volunteer for new responsibilities, and thus she starts leaning back.
Sheryl Sandberg advises young working women to not make decisions too far in advance. She encourages working women to stay till the day they have to actually leave and then plan.
Once you have a child at home, your job better be good to go back home not feeling guilty of leaving that kid at home. Your job needs to be challenging, it needs to be rewarding, you should feel like you're making a difference by doing that job. If two years ago you didn't take up that promotion and some guy next to you did and three years ago you didn't take up new opportunities, you're going to be bored."
~ Sheryl Sandberg
Leadership is not an innate characteristic. We can have innate characteristics and qualities for men and women, but leadership can be both.”
~ Sheryl Sandberg
While her TED talk received over two million views, 'Lean In' received much acclaim and it was also hurled with a lot of debate and criticism. A lot of reviews have stated that Sheryl Sandberg comes from an affluent family and has been fortunate enough to receive good education and professional opportunities, however a majority of working women are not so lucky. The Washington Post said that the 'Lean In' Campaign held little for most women.
Some have said that Sandberg’s approach is unrealistic and unfairly blames women for a society that makes it hard to become leaders while also being involved in their families at home. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, for instance, called Sandberg a 'PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots'. The columnist said Sandberg claims to want to launch a social revolution, but is actually just promoting herself.
In response to this, Sandberg said the following.
“We need a heated debate. Things that are stagnant don’t move unless someone gets upset.”
Sandberg says that writing the book was an example of her own 'leaning in', a decision to be ambitious and speak for women despite the risk of criticism. "Women still face many systemic barriers", she said, "And the best way to remove them is by putting more women in top corporate positions".