The talk didn’t start with any mention of leaning in – it started with a pointed question.
“I want to be number one in my field. I want to be the CEO of the company I’m in. I want to run for governor. I want to be president of Stanford University. Stand up if you have ever said that out loud to anyone else. Stand up!”
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, smiled as dozens in the crowd of hundreds at Stanford’s Cemex Auditorium stood up. The former Google top executive and Harvard University graduate is on a talk tour following the release of her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead." Tuesday night, she drew many rounds of applause and cheers as she talked about changing the dialogue women hear as they pursue their careers.
She gave the example of how men in the workplace likely hear messages like, “You’ve got this!” compared to what women hear:
“Don’t you want to have a kid?”
“Doesn’t your child need you?”
Sandberg says – enough. It’s time to lean in and stand up. “I’m here to give everybody in the audience not just permission but encouragement to stand up the next time the question is asked,” she said. “I want to especially do this for the women because the blunt truth is men still run the world.”
She pointed to government positions as another example. “Women have 20 percent of the parliament seats globally. You may have noticed the headlines I noticed when we got to 20 percent of the senate. All the headlines were about women taking over the senate. Dude, it’s 20 percent. It’s not a takeover, 20 percent is one-fifth.”
In fact, Catalyst, a non-profit research group that focuses on women and employment, found that women make up 18 percent of elected officials in Congress, 14 percent of executive officers, eight percent of top-earners, and just four percent of CEOs.
“Women have held 14 percent of the top jobs in Corporate America for ten years. Ten years of exactly no progress.”
Sandberg decided to take her book one step further: Into action with “Lean In Circles.” She co-founded LeanIn.org with Gina Bianchini, the founder and CEO of Mightybell, a Palo Alto-based start-up. Bianchini described the circles as “a book club with a purpose,” ideally consisting of eight to ten people who are at the same stage in their lives and get together just about once a month. The point, she said, is to
“As we build a community of people who are dedicated to women leaning into ambition, there is no better way of doing it than by looking to your left and right, and pulling people in,” said Bianchini, who also used to work at Goldman Sachs.
The issues here to tackle seem aplenty. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found there’s been some progress in the gender wage gap in America, but many women say it’s not nearly enough. In 1981, the women were making about 59-cents for every dollar a man made. Three decades later, the number sits at 77-cents per dollar. Bianchini said it’s a matter of women and their expectations.
“Men always negotiate. Women rarely negotiate. That’s where the wage gap comes from.”
From salary negotiation to leveling the playing field, there are five videos on LeanIn.org that come directly from Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. In the last three years that the conference existed, only top business leaders and some Stanford faculty members were invited to hear the professors and experts talk about the aforementioned topics, in addition to some others including one focused on how to capture someone’s attention.
“Storytelling is 22 times more effective than just sharing facts and figures alone.”
Now, that dialogue is free and open to anyone who wants to visit the non-profit website.
Sandberg’s critics have pointed to various “flaws” in her book and philosophy; however, she said she is truly fighting for a better and more equal tomorrow for her female peers.
“We can try to educate people," she said. "Lean In is trying to do that, but the person most likely to correct this for you, is you. It is your seat at the table – take it.”