Women urged to push for equality at work

Mostly women attended Sheryl Sandberg's program Thursday. For their $45 or $150 tickets, they also received her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead."
Mostly women attended Sheryl Sandberg's program Thursday. For their $45 or $150 tickets, they also received her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead." (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 06, 2013

One thousand curious fans filled the grand ballroom and balcony of the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Center City Thursday to hear the Sheryl Sandberg prescription for gender equality:

Women need to "lean in" - step it up - in the workplace. Men need to do the same at home.

Only then, according to Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, will American society begin to approach parity between the sexes.

"It's counterintuitive, but the single most important career decision you can make is who you'll marry," said Sandberg, 43, who has reignited a national conversation about biology and destiny and the stalled "women's revolution" that promised so much to so many so long ago.

For her efforts, Sandberg has many admirers - and critics.

She appears to "have it all," a state she dismisses as unattainable and a phrase she'd like to banish from the language, for all the damage it does to women. But it's undeniable: Sandberg is blessed with success at every turn.

She has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, the former summa cum laude, the latter with highest distinction. Her killer resume includes not just Facebook's No. 2 job, but stints at Google, the U.S. Treasury Department, McKinsey & Co., and the World Bank.

She describes her marriage and home life, with two young children, as very happy. She's beautiful and famous, rich and powerful. And she doesn't even look tired.

Critics complain that Sandberg speaks only to women with high-powered careers and lofty incomes. She responds that gender stereotypes and unequal division of labor at home limit all women, and that the issue of pay equity - women earning 77 cents to men's dollar - is especially critical for women of lesser means.

Still, it's true that Sandberg and her family live in a 9,000-square-foot mansion in Menlo Park, Calif. And she can well afford the great schools and summer camps, excellent nannies and household help that allow her to "lean in" with gusto at work, while others struggle to keep it together and stay upright.

Sandberg also has been criticized for holding women partly responsible for the fact that men still run the world.

"Don't leave before you leave," she said, reminding the audience that women hold only 14 percent of the top corporate jobs in the country, a figure that hasn't changed in a decade.

In other words, don't think you have to choose between work and family - men don't. And don't withdraw from work, either physically or mentally, because you're thinking of starting a family or have children already - men don't.

"Sit at the table. Raise your hand and speak out," said Sandberg, who, despite her success, admits to longstanding feelings of insecurity.

After being voted "most likely to succeed" by her high school senior classmates, she persuaded a friend who worked on the yearbook to remove that designation from her name.

"I wanted to get a prom date," Sandberg said. "Who wants to go to the prom with the smartest girl in the class?"

Considered one of the nation's most powerful businesswomen, she is nonetheless easily stung by criticism, even anonymous online comments. She sometimes thinks of herself as a fraud. And she stresses every day over whether she'll get home in time for dinner with her 7-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter, and husband David Goldberg, a fellow Harvard grad and CEO of SurveyMonkey, a software company.

"My husband thinks we're heroes when we do that. He says, 'No one gets home for dinner with jobs like ours,' " Sandberg recalled.

This is a familiar theme in her commentary: Woman feels stretched on a rack of conflicting obligations; man confidently glides right through.

The audience - almost all women, many in corporate dress but some in jeans - laughed at the different takes on dinnertime. But it was clear, from the knowing looks and nodding heads, that Sandberg's overall message was connecting.

There were audience questions at the end of the program, which was moderated by 6ABC's Tamala Edwards.

How do you find a mentor? By saying, " 'I want to help you on your project,' not, 'Will you be my mentor?' "

How can you break out of a rut at work? Reach for new opportunities and don't be afraid to fail. A career path is not a ladder; it's a jungle gym.

What if you want to change the dynamic of your marriage to be more supportive of your career? You can. Marriages can change. Partners can learn new behaviors.

"Support means getting up in the middle of the night and changing diapers," Sandberg said. "If we're going to change the workplace, we have to change things at home."

As she left the hotel, Sylvia Dorn, 57, a programmer analyst from Wynnewood, called Sandberg's thoughts "very timely" and vowed, as Sandberg had suggested, to find herself a mentor.

"I'm in the IT business, and I see a lot of what she's talking about in my own workplace," Dorn said. "It resonated."

One of the few men in attendance, Mark Weiss of Jenkintown, 53, owner of CRW Graphics, said that Sandberg had helped him understand the mindset of working women.

"If I can appreciate where women are coming from, I might do a better job myself developing the careers of women who work in my organization," he said.

Weiss already appreciates the work involved in running a household. He's the single parent of two foster children.


Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

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