As COO of the social networking site Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most powerful women in American business. And she wishes that she had more company. Even though women are more than 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, the vast majority of leadership positions in the business world are held by men. For example, only 4.2% of the 500 largest companies in the United States are headed by women. Sandberg has decided that she wants to do something to change the balance.
In 2012, Sandberg gave a talk at TED, a popular intellectual conference, about how many women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. The video of her talk became a hit, and has been viewed more than 2 million times. Now, she has published a book that expands on the same themes.
There are many points of view concerning why women often seem to take a detour when climbing the corporate ladder. Women still do the majority of housework, cooking, and childcare in the home, even when both spouses work. Women’s timetable for having children tends to coincide with the time when the competition to move up the corporate ladder is fiercest. Corporate work is rigidly structured and maternity leaves are short.
Sandberg, however, stresses the role that women themselves play in perpetuating barriers. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in” she writes, explaining the title of the book, Leaning In. Her prescription is for women to expect more from themselves, and to aim higher in their careers.
The book has gotten a tremendous amount of attention, with reviews in virtually every major news publication and earnest discussions both on television and in cyberspace. Some have heralded it as a new feminist manifesto. However, there has also been criticism. Some say that Sandberg, a graduate of Harvard and is a multi-millionaire, is not a typical woman. Because she is one of the elite, perhaps her advice isn’t relevant to the average working woman.
There’s also the issue that, as consultant Jody Greenstone Miller puts it, “the problem is women aren’t leaning in not because they don’t know how to, but because they don’t like the world they’re being asked to lean into.” The corporate world with its long hours, heavy demands, and rough-and-tumble politics is not always particularly appealing. Indeed, in the United States nearly 30 percent of all businesses are women-owned, due in part to the propensity of women to jump off the corporate track and go into business for themselves. Many women find that being their own boss is an easier way to balance their career with their family life. As a female small-business owner myself, personally I feel a bit miffed that Sandberg only seems to value leadership if it’s at the helm of a large organization.
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