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Sheryl Sandberg Facebook Lean in

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg calls for companies to break down gender stereotypes in the workplace


By Jessica Davies | News Editor

November 21, 2013 | 4 min read

Facebook’s chief operating officer has called for the breaking down of gender stereotypes in the workplace, adding that women should exude more self-confidence and that men stop underestimating them.

Speaking to Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff during a fireside chat at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco Sandberg tore into the subject of inequality in the workplace, which is the subject of her new book “Lean In”.

“Women should be more self-confident and men should stop underestimating them. We are still really far from getting our fair share of leadership. That means when the big decisions that most impact our world are made our voices aren’t being heard.”

She said that women are still discriminated against for having the same characteristics as men, from childhood right through to their working careers.

“It comes down to stereotypes and culture. Cultures are so different everywhere, except for one thing – the same sterotypes exist everywhere – that men should be assertive and aggressive and women should speak when spoken to.”

She said girls that are told they are bossy when they are young end up feeling less self-confident than a boy who may have the exact same characteristics and personality, but who isn’t criticised for it.

The same pattern continues right through to adulthood. She cited examples of when men have told her they have had complaints from their employees that a female employee has been too aggressive. One particular man went back to question each of the employees who had said so and asked them if they would have criticised a man for the same behaviour. “They all said no”, she added.

“So the next time a person says a woman is too aggressive - question it. The next time your little girl is told she is too bossy you should reply that she actually has great executive leadership skills,” she said.

She called for companies to stop brushing gender-related issues under the carpet and to address them head on to move forward and ensure they have the right female:male split that will lead to greater success.

Yet she said that more than 60 per cent of male managers feel uncomfortable when they are alone with a female colleague. “What does a man and a man look like in a room alone together? What does a woman and a man look like in a room alone together – or a younger woman at that?

“When I give a performance review with a man it’s clear, when I give one to a woman three people in HR read it and I read from a script,” she said.

Failing to address the issues and to be vocal about them is stunting the progress of creating a more gender-balanced workforce, according to Sandberg.

“We know we lose a lot of high-performing women in the child-bearing years –what do we do about it and when do we mention it? Never. We know this is when we lose women but have convinced ourselves it’s illegal to talk about it. If we call it what it is we can educate people and change it,” she said.

Later she joked that men should readdress what actions help lead to a healthy sex life with their partners – that a gift of flowers will make the same impact as it would if they did more laundry.

“It’s been proven that women are happier when they feel men are pulling their weight more with the cleaning - like doing the laundry, and when they are happier it leads to a healthy sex life. So really men shouldn’t bother buying flowers, they should just do more laundry,” she said.

She also spoke about the launch of a Lean-In foundation, following the publication of her book, where men and women can meet to share experiences and support each other’s ambitions.

Sheryl Sandberg Facebook Lean in

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