Work and Organizations

Rewind: Sandberg's inspirational Stanford talk

What would the world look like if 50 percent of our institutions were run by women and 50 percent of our homes were run by men? Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg can’t claim it would be utopia with “flowers and guitar playing.” But here’s what she does know: Our companies would be more productive.

“When it comes to filling our leadership ranks, we are sourcing from half the population and if we source from the whole population our institutions are going to do better,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg spoke to a packed audience at Cemex Auditorium in early April as part of the Clayman Institute’s annual Jing Lyman Lecture series. Video from her talk is now available on the Clayman Institute’s YouTube channel

Sandberg rekindled a conversation about women and the workplace, a topic central to the Clayman Institute’s research focus Redesigning and Redefining Work. Sandberg’s talk on campus holds particular importance because of a new partnership between the Clayman Institute and Leanin.org, Sandberg’s recently-launched foundation.

While public policy reform is a necessary step in creating a more equal workplace, according to Sandberg, we can’t leave an issue this important just to managers. "We can't count on anyone else solving that problem," she said. "But the person who is most likely to correct this for you is you. It is your seat at the table — take it."

“Don’t leave before you leave”

For Sandberg, having a career is like running a marathon. But even if men and women are equally trained to run the race, the women get different messages along the way.  Men hear “you got this, keep running” while the women hear “you sure you want to do this?” and “Does it make sense to start a race you might not finish?”

“Women understand the responsibilities they face and what I’ve seen over and over is they start preparing for those decisions way too early,” she said. “I’m fully supportive of any decision a woman or man wants to make. Working in the home and raising kids is really important work.”

Sandberg argues people should make that decision once they have children because, as she’s noticed, years before children come along, women are making room for responsibilities they don’t yet have. All of those years when a woman should have been leaning forward she’s leaning back.

“The best thing women and men can do is keep your options open. Make the hard choices when you have to make them not years before, because you’ll inadvertently change the decision criteria you will face.”

Men, do this for you

“The most important thing we need to explain to men is ‘don’t do this as a favor,’” Sandberg said. “This isn’t a favor. This isn’t to be nice to your wife. This is for you.” If a business leader can talk openly about gender issues and make the workplace better for women, “he’s going to have a competitive advantage recruiting 50 percent of the population.”

There are also benefits to being a more engaged, nurturing father. “Just like we don’t encourage leadership in women,” Sandberg said, “we don’t encourage nurturing in men.” With men comprising only 4 percent of stay at home parents in this country, Sandberg points out that we don’t make it easy for men.

“I have stories in my book of men who say they are on the playground and not only are people not friendly, they are suspicious,” she said. “That’s not going to work. We need to encourage nurturing [in men].”

From a moment to a movement

Leanin.org is the community that spawned out of Sandberg’s book “Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” Leanin.org does three things: it builds communities, offers free online education, and encourages small learning groups called Circles. Sandberg highlighted the Lean In story of a woman who confronted her rapist and another from Condoleezza Rice, who learned to lean in at an early age to confront racism in the classroom.

“If we bring men and women together to form a community around gender issues — equality and leadership for women and nurturing for men — and if we provide education, skills, and tools and if we can give people in-persona and online support through a circle of people who can be their peer mentors, we can change things, one by one by one.”