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Interviews

Leaning In to Create Change: Sheryl Sandberg

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© 24 April 2014.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Interviews · Non Fiction · Special Guests ).

One of the world’s most successful business women was in Dublin last week to spread the word about her book Lean In – a special edition for graduates that contains six new chapters based on reoccurring questions coming directly from young women.

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and at 44, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is one of the youngest female billionaires in the world. Her fortune surpassed $1 billion when Facebook shares closed at a record $58.51 in New York – Sandberg owns about 12.3 million shares at the company and her stake is valued at about $750 million. Starting her career at McKinley & Company having completed an MBA at Harvard, Sandberg joined Google Inc. in 2001, serving as its Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations until March 2008 when she joined Facebook. She was responsible for online sales of Google’s advertising and publishing products as well as for sales operations of Google’s consumer products and Google Book Search. David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, says Sandberg was “brought in [to Facebook] to figure out how to make money” and that it’s “proving to be one of the greatest stories in business history”.

The oldest child of professional parents, Sandberg was greatly influenced by her maternal grandmother who grew up in a poor Jewish American family in a crowded apartment in New York City. Rosalind Einhorn, who passed away at the age of 94 in November 2011, finished high school in spite of being pulled out during The Great Depression, went on to community college and graduated from U.C. Berkeley,  later saving her family business from financial ruin.

Interviewed at Facebook’s  Dublin dockside headquarters, RTE’s Edel Coffey asked Sandberg why she had written the book in the first place. Sandberg was open, relaxed and personable, telling the mainly female invited audience, “I wanted to tell women and men the things I wish people had told me about what I was capable of achieving…The book doesn’t say you should work all night or women should be like men. What I want is equal opportunity for women to be able to decide to do what they want to do.”

A mixture of self-help and business book Lean In cites examples from Sandberg’s own career to help inform women in business and point to a route for change which Sandberg believes has to begin in the home before women will see real equality in the workplace. “We are not going to get equality in the workforce until we get equality in the home. Full stop.” In order to allow women to succeed, Sandberg emphasised the importance of men supporting women in creating equality for all, pointing out that time is the key commodity what is most precious to women who are juggling family, life and a career, “If you want to do something nice for your wife, don’t buy flowers, do the laundry”.

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Sandberg’s message is about empowering women, giving them the psychological and practical tools to achieve what they want to achieve, and that doesn’t have to be in the business arena,  her message is not about men versus women but she beleives that men will see the improvements when there is real gender equality.

In a light moment, Sandberg explained, laughing, that she is often asked by the graduates she meets who they should marry. Her advice is to be “picky” about who you date and who you ultimately pick as their life partner,  it is important to ensure that the man or partner in your life is on the same page as you in terms of goals and also home and work management. Sandberg pointed out that in Ireland, women do twice as much housework as men even when both work full-time, pointing out that relationships are happier when there is a greater sense of partnership.

Sandberg believes that although women should be able to choose the life they want, trying to win the work life or even life/life balance always leaves women feeling guilty. Lean In is about giving women permission to go for what they want in life and not feel guilty.

what_would_you_do_if_you_werent_afraid_sign cropSince the publication of the original Lean In book in 2013, the ‘Lean In’ movement has spread like wildfire all over the world. Women have set up Lean In circles from Dublin to Beijing, groups who meet up to discuss career issues and to generally offer support and advice to one another. Women supporting women is not a new idea but with a vocal, globally respected figurehead like Sandberg providing both a mentoring role, practical support through LeanIn.org and an organisational structure, it presents a real possibility for change. And Sandberg is passionate about that change, becoming quite choked as she explained how powerful it can be.  For Sandberg, this isn’t about selling books or her own brand, it’s about using her skills and experience to drive change; as a Time Magazine cover stated, ‘don’t hate her because she’s successful’.

Sandberg said her original ambition was to have a couple of hundred of circles set up around the USA, but today there are over 16,000 Lean In circles around the world. The Dublin group present at the event prove how successful women supporting women can be with four of the women having successfully moved jobs, while all eight have successfully negotiated salary raises.

“I really believe women need to come into the work force leaning in… men are leaning in the minute they get a job and are banging down doors for opportunities,” Sandberg said.

When asked during the Q&A whether gender quotas were the answer, Sandberg was keen to point out that they were not the solution to the gender problem, explaining, “Even when they’re used, and used successfully, they have not moved other metrics,” she used Norway as an example where a 40 per cent female participation quota has successfully altered the political landscape , but hasn’t effected business – the percentage of female chief executives remains the same as the rest of the world at around 4%.

Through the book, and the Lean In movement, Sandberg is a powerful advocate for change, as she says, “This is the generation that changes it and they change it by believing in themselves.”

(c) Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin

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About Lean In

Ask most women whether they have the right to equality at work and the answer will be a resounding yes, but ask the same women whether they’d feel confident asking for a raise, a promotion, or equal pay, and some reticence creeps in.

 The statistics, although an improvement on previous decades, are certainly not in women’s favour – of 197 heads of state, only twenty-two are women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally, and in the world of big business, a meagre eighteen of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business – draws on her own experience of working in some of the world’s most successful businesses and looks at what women can do to help themselves, and make the small changes in their life that can effect change on a more universal scale.

Learning to ‘lean in’ is about tackling the anxieties and preconceptions that stop women reaching the top – taking a place at the table, and making yourself a part of the debate.

Lean In is in all good bookshops or available online here.