Sheryl Sandberg : The Next Guru for Modern Women in the Workforce!

The recent attention given to Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has brought her celebrity status and controversy over how to educate the next generation of women to become leaders and their own advocates. She’s written a book called “Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” and is unapologetic about aiming to  fix one of the world’s biggest problems: a lack of women in power. In her book she discusses many reasons women do not hold equal power but focuses on one reason in particular: that women are taught that they need to keep themselves out of power and they therefore inhibit their own ambitions and sabotage their own careers.  She says that woman “leave before they actually leave” work; implying that they fail to negotiate for salaries they deserve and for promotions they’ve earned based on the unique value they offer.

Sandberg presents deeply troubling stats about women that reinforce her claim about gender inequality in the workforce. Women are 57% of college graduates and 63% of masters degree holders, but that majority fades as careers progress; 21  of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are women; Women hold 14% of executive officer positions; Women hold 16% of board seats; Congress is 18% female; In 1970, Women were paid $0.59 for every dollar men made. It’s now $0.77.  Women have to prove themselves more than men. A McKinsey study says men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted on accomplishments.

In a survey of 4,000 employees at big companies, 36% of men said they want to be CEO. Only 18% of women said the same. Middle school boys say they want to be leaders when they grow up. Middle school girls usually don’t say that. Successful women are more likely to feel like “impostors” who will be found out.  Men attribute their success to innate qualities and skills. Women attribute their success to luck and help from others. So why do women seem less and be less confident? Sandberg points out many stats from recent studies including; that mothers spend more time comforting girls. Mothers overestimate their sons’ ability to crawl and underestimate their daughters. Teachers answer boys when they call out, but scold girls who call out, and tell them to raise their hands. She reports that 41% of women are primary breadwinners, 23% are co-breadwinners and 52% of black kids are raised by a single mother.

Many woman are left wondering whether they should consider her opinion (and her distressing statistics) or dismiss her as a privileged feminist (Harvard grad billionaire) who put her career before her family and sold herself as a role model. As a mother of two college age children, I think Sandberg has some great points.  She says “Don’t leave until you leave!”  In other words, don’t limit your goals before you have children because at some point in your life you might regret not having fully developed the network, skills and experience  you need to leverage in order to get hired.

Sandberg acknowledges that everyone’s situation is unique but she claims that too often woman  sit in the back of the board room, fail to negotiate for salaries that their male counterparts have, and attribute their success to luck or others help. She says this passive approach to their career is hurting them in the workforce. Whether in the corporate boardroom, PTA or in negotiating for a raise, Sandberg wants women to have courage to ask for what they deserve based on the unique value they offer to the firm.

She makes the emphatic statement that the most important career decision you make is who you marry!  I agree with her fully.  I wrote in my book, From Diploma to Dream Job: 5 Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career, that when entering a relationship, you should have the discussion about the roles each person is willing to play in the relationship. Sandberg reiterates that the spouse you choose is the single most important career decision you’ll make; She asserts that sharing financial and childcare responsibilities with a husband is critical for those women who want to have a career. Try to project forward anticipating what role you want to hold in the relationship and identify how you will balance the work and domestic responsibilities before you have a family.

On the flip side, if a woman chooses to put her career on hold and stay home to raise a family, its likely she’ll need to reconcile that assuming domestic responsibilities will become a large part of her role. If both parties choose to work then the domestic responsibilities will need to be shared. The point is, these issues should be discussed prior to making a commitment to a relationship as they could add tremendous stress when overlooked.

I agree with Sheryl in that it’s best to project forward in order to avoid making costly mistakes later. Although the topic may seem mundane, those who are emotionally mature will recognize that this can affect the serenity and peace in one’s life.  There is no one right answer for all couples but the one thing that is for sure is that the topic of what role you plan to play in the relationship shouldn’t be ignored!

Also, it’s necessary for both men and women to be your own best advocate especially in today’s challenging economy in order to get what you deserve in terms of salary and promotions. Kudos to Mrs. Sandberg for writing this courageous book “Lean In” and taking the time to voice her views about what holds woman back from becoming more successful. We have heard over and over stories about successful women and their career paths but few have stood up and written their advice for the next generation!

I hope Sheryl will start a trend of career/life story sharing among professionals across a variety of industries  so we can hear more opinions from men and women who have made a wide range of choices;  Young women and men need to have options for role models and stand to benefit from those who are willing to share their stories about what worked and what didn’t. The information, wisdom and insights they provide will help the next generation of workers make  career choices based on knowledge of the potential outcome of their decision.

The more stories the better! Young people could benefit from having a forum where they can ask the tough questions that they can’t always freely ask in an informational interview or to their graduate school professor.  There are powerful and important lessons to glean from Sheryl Sandberg’s story and let’s hope her fame will encourage many others to follow suit so coaches and prospective employees can  learn from the successes, set-backs, trade-offs and life experience of others in order to improve their career and life decisions!