January 25, 2011

Women, Leadership and Success

I just found this video (see below) of Facebook's Chief Operating Office, Sheryl Sandburg, giving a talk on why we have too few women leaders. The statistics she provides on women in leadership positions is disappointing. As a woman in a challenging business environment who is also thinking about having kids soon, this video really hit home and made me feel inspired.

The key thoughts of her speech are:

1. Sit at the Table - She makes the point that women often underestimate themselves, attribute their success to outside factors and aren't as confident and self assured as men. She provides examples such as 57% of men negotiate their first salary out of college, while only 7% of women do the same. I know that I didn't negotiate my salary much with my first job and didn't at all with my second job. After discussions with my male coworkers (I happen to work with mostly men), they all said they really negotiated and weren't afraid to be rejected. A potentially costly lesson learned for myself. She also talks about how women who are driven can often be viewed in a negative light when compared to male counterparts. She references an Harvard Business School case study on a successful venture capitalist who happened be a woman (Heide Roizen) and how when the name was changed from Heide to Howard, the students at HBS perceived the success very differently. While I don't think that women are always perceived in a negative light when they push to be successful and are competitive, I do think it happens fairly often. It may be subconscious on some level, but I've been in many situations over the years where I've seen this type of behavior. Where men and women behave in similar manners and the woman's actions and speech are considered "bitchy" and "pushy" while men are considered "authoritative" and "no nonsense". I put those in quotes because my coworker once actually said those things after a meeting and he's generally a very open and intelligent person. I don't think this is just the male perception either, I think women feel that way towards other women a lot of times.

2. Make Your Partner a Partner - Sandberg speaks of the common theme of women taking on "twice the amount of housework", and "three times the amount of childcare" compared to the man. She doesn't simplify the cause and doesn't deep dive into it but does talk about how as a society we put more pressure on boys to succeed than our girls. Also when men do decide to work from home, Mom's often don't know how to interact with them and tend to shun them. She encourages us to "make it as important a job to work inside the home for both genders if we are going to even things out and have women stay in workforce". I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. We don't even have kids now and I tend to feel pressure (self imposed) to do more of the household duties, to "take care" of my husband and the people around me and to keep a beautiful home. To clarify my husband helps out a lot around the house and I actually came home from work yesterday to find him cooking me a homemade Indian dinner AND he even did the dishes (we usually rotate - if you cook, the other cleans up)! Its honestly all in my head and I have to say that I do take pride and put pressure on myself to be a great cook and to maintain a clean and stylish home. Plus if stress relief weren't enough, Sandberg mentions that people with equal responsibilities and equal earning tend to have half the divorce rate and a better sex life.

3. Don't Leave Before You Leave - This final point emphasizes that women often tend to "lean back" and stop looking for a promotion and ways to get ahead when they think about/have a child. They start to wonder how they can fit taking care of a child into everything else they are doing and so they stop trying to get ahead in their career. I can honestly say that I have thought about that a lot lately. How could I possibly continue with my career when I travel so frequently and work such long hours? How can I scale back instead of how can I get ahead. Sandberg points out that the problem with this is that when you do have children, your job should be rewarding, challenging and make a difference. Otherwise you are less likely to come back or want to leave your kid(s) at home. Essentially the message is to just keep swimming or keep your foot on the gas pedal.

Watch the video below - I promise the 15 minutes is well worth your time...



  1. Loved this video! Thanks for sharing it with us. It definitely reminded me to keep the foot on the gas pedal. :-)

  2. Great tips - as a woman in Finance, I encounter these mindsets regularly (and am guilty of them myself); it's always good to have a refresher.

  3. i just saw this video about 2 weeks ago! makes you think...


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