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Sheryl Sandberg’s Book and Her Influence for Gender Equality

I firmly believe that “Sheryl Sandberg will likely be one of the most influential people of the technology and digital age” and was pleased to learn last week that she would be releasing a book titled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead this coming March. While working on my own book Corporate Empathy over the past months I have watched numerous obscure and not-so obscure web interviews of Sandberg. My first introduction was through her TED talk, “Why we have too few women leaders,” after discovering her role as COO of Facebook.

Sandberg appears to have a firm handle on the operations of Facebook and also has what appears to be a fulfilling family life. It is her efforts towards shining a light on gender inequality however that I think will be where she has the greatest long-term impact. What makes Sandberg’s views so intriguing to me is that she makes two points that are not typically brought up when discussing women’s rights. The first point, implied by title of her book, is that many women make small decisions early on in their career as if they already have a family and children and that the sum of those decisions combined, result in careers that are less ambitious and often get abandoned when the choice of staying home or returning to work finally presents itself. The second point has a significant effect on the first and creates a large gap in the goal of gender equality overall because the role of men has not yet been addressed sufficiently in the discussion.

A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be just a much better world. - Sheryl Sandberg, 2011 Barnard College Commencement

In the eventual balancing of gender roles the above statement is paramount. While women make up over 50 percent of college graduates they hold only 15 or 16 percent of C-level jobs and board seats in the private sector. While there are many reasons for the gap I believe the equally low number of men who are full-time parents which is rarely discussed and often stigmatized is a significant contributing factor. Sandberg notes in this Makers.com segment that women are still the default in charge at home and that until that fact changes they will never succeed as much as men in the workplace. Sandberg closes her 2010 TED talk by summing up the dilemma with the following statement.

I want my son to have a choice to contribute fully in the workforce or at home, and I want my daughter to have the choice to not just succeed, but to be liked for her accomplishments.

In addition to the above two points, Sandberg made an important statement in April of this year when she went on record in a Makers.com interview that since having children she leaves work everyday at 5:30 p.m. to be with her family for dinner. The default expectation of working long hours for the sake of long hours and at the expense of our personal and family lives has to also change.

There are numerous companies that are beginning to change that expectation and the number should continue to grow. Jason Fried, CEO of 37 Signals implemented four-day work weeks to give employees more time off, and according to Simon Sinek employees at Honoré Construction are required by CEO Dwayne Honoré to clock in no earlier than 8:00 a.m. and out no later than 5:30 p.m. if they want to be considered part of the bonus pool. Author Gary Vaynerchuk does not track the time of his employees at Vaynermedia and does not track the days they take off. These innovative CEOs are early adopters of business practices that embrace our need for more emphasis on our personal lives.

I believe that Sandberg’s book and her efforts will provide a significant boost to both movements since they are so interdependent for us to finding gender equality and life balance.

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