Sheryl Sandberg: The HBR Interview
SARAH GREEN: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I'm Sarah Green. For this week's podcast we're featuring a conversation between Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, and HBR Editor in Chief, Adi Ignatius. They sat down recently, in California, to talk about Sheryl's new book, Lean In. What follows are some excerpts from their conversation. Enjoy.
ADI IGNATIUS: So who is the book for? And what is the ultimate takeaway you would like? Or the primary takeaway you would like from it?
SHERYL SANDBERG: I think the book is for any woman who wants advice on how to sit at any table she wants to sit at. And any man who wants to be part of creating a more equal world, both at home and in the workforce.
You know, we know that institutions that can use the talents of the full workforce perform better. There's data that suggests that. I think that increasingly will be proven to be true. We also know that more equal marriages are happier and more stable. And so I think there's a lot of potential for this to have very positive effects for our organizations and for our homes.
ADI IGNATIUS: OK. So I want to come back to a bunch that-- yeah, you're doing a big publicity roll-out, Oprah, Time Magazine, other things. You've become, effectively, a major spokesperson for some of these topics. How do you fit that into your world? How does that fit our conflict with what you're doing at Facebook?
SHERYL SANDBERG: So I think it's really complimentary to my work at Facebook if I want us to build the best products. And one of the ways we do that is we have to be able to attract and retain the very best people. And that means attracting and retaining men and women.
Organizations will tell you exactly what the data shows. You get women in the door, but then, at the senior levels, they lose them. Warren Buffett has said, I think quite graciously and famously, that he only had to compete with half the population.
You know, more people get in the race, the running time is going to be faster. So we need to get more people in the race. And get more people to stay in the race.
ADI IGNATIUS: But back to the question of Facebook, I mean, so if people pay attention to your message you will have helped every company. You will have helped your competitors as well as Facebook. So again, how do you know when it's too much? I mean, how do you wall off what is becoming a bigger, and bigger, and bigger role for yourself?
SHERYL SANDBERG: I still spend a very small fraction of time on this, compared to the time I spent on Facebook. But I do you think that it's a message that helps Facebook. Ever since I've been more public on women we have a great track record at getting amazing women to apply, getting strong women to stay. This helps make the workplace better for men, too.
I had a morning meeting and there was a man who worked here a couple of years ago and he missed the meeting. And he sent me an email and said, hey, I missed your meeting. Just wanted you to know the reason I missed your meeting is, because of your encouragement, I take my kids to school half the time, now. Thank you. And I knew I could miss your meeting-- and it was a big meeting-- because of that. Thank you. This is why I love working here.
ADI IGNATIUS: He wasn't playing you?
SHERYL SANDBERG: I guess he could have been. Ask him. But he still here, and he's really happy. And he's a star. And when you ask him why he's here, he'll say, I love Facebook's mission. I love what you're doing. And I love that you care about my life, too. And that is, I think, pretty unique, but it makes our employees pretty loyal.
ADI IGNATIUS: You know, I often try to interview female executives, CEOs, and I say, I'd like to talk to you about the experience of being a female business leader in what is still essentially a boy's club. And usually the response I get, and you talk about in the book, is people say, look I don't view myself as a female. So yeah, I'm just a CEO. And I wonder-- I understand that for public consumption people have to say that, but surely there's a difference? And I guess what can be learned from female experience in roles like this?
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah, I mean, all of us do that. I did that. Had you asked me that question, I don't know, five years ago, I would have said the same thing. And there's a reason we don't talk about gender. No one talks about gender in the workplace.
Women don't talk about it, because you're afraid if you say the words, I'm a woman, basically, what the other person is going to hear is, I want special treatment or I'm going to sue you. Neither of which you mean. But that's what they hear.
And a man who runs a large organization told me-- and won't go on record, so he means it-- that it's easier to talk about your sex life in public than it is to talk about gender. So one of the goals I have with writing Lean In is really to make gender an OK topic in the workplace. Because there's so many things that would make this all work better if we would discuss it.
ADI IGNATIUS: So is the idea then that men and women become more like each other? Or that we really celebrate the differences? You know, not try to minimize them, but identify them and kind of celebrate them?
SHERYL SANDBERG: I think we want to understand the differences and celebrate them. I think we want to break down the stereotypical limitations to our choices. See I don't think we have a real choice. When people say the work choice, what they mean is women can choose to work or stay home.
They don't really mean that men can work in the home, and be as respected as a woman can. Of all the working families with two parents, and one parent is an at home full-time parent, 4% of those are men. 4%. We don't really have choice for men. Men are not encouraged.
I have friends, male friends, who have tried to do that. Some of them still do. And the world is not very welcoming, or respectful, or encouraging of, it's a great job to be a full-time at home dad. And we need to change that. We need to stop naming the class as Mommy and Me. Mommy and Me is not welcoming to fathers.
And the same thing for women, that we don't really encourage leadership for women. We try. But we know that we call our daughters bossy, and not our sons. And so women are given these messages that are not very subtle, all through their lives, that are really very anti leadership.
And so what I'm hoping to be part of doing, and just play my own small part, is broadening those choices. Because if we broaden those choices, we end up in a world where all of us have more opportunity. And we should have better results as a result of that opportunity.
ADI IGNATIUS: In your book you anticipated some of the criticisms. Well, I think, you've mentioned some of the criticisms you faced in the past, and anticipated some of them, then you rounded them. So Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her piece, in Atlantic, she said, in a sense, in one way, the arguments that you're making, are essentially, on one level, blaming women. You know, what is wrong with you? Her argument that that's sort of misplaced. That it's asking too much of women, and it's putting in the blame where it doesn't belong. How do you respond to that argument?
SHERYL SANDBERG: I think there are all kinds of hurdles women face. Women face huge numbers of institutional barriers, discrimination, assumptions about them, lack of flexibility, all of the things she talked about. Which are absolutely real.
We also face barriers that exists within ourselves, or that are the results of the socialization that we've been given. So we are told, really, women shouldn't have strong voices, women shouldn't sit at tables. And then we internalize that. And we do it to ourselves. And it takes both.
We have to break down the institutional barriers women face. I think one of the best ways to do that, and the fastest way, is to get more women into positions of power, so that they can do it. You know, Google has pregnancy parking because I got pregnant, and I was senior enough when I realized it was really hard to walk from the back of the parking lot all the way to the front.
I was senior enough to walk into Larry and Sergey's office and say, we need pregnancy parking. And Sergey looked up and said, we sure do. I never thought it. I never thought of it either. But I was a senior enough to demand it.
And I'm long gone from Google, but pregnancy parking is still there. And so one of the best ways to break down those institutional barriers is for women to get those positions of power. But also men can do it. But we also need to talk about the internal barriers we face.
And I'm not trying to have the whole debate. I'm not trying to say it's the whole answer. I'm trying to add to this side of the debate, because I think it takes both. And that doesn't mean we're blaming women. It means we're helping them see what they have the power to do.
Alice Walker has this great quote I love, I won't get it exactly right without looking it up, but the fastest way to give up power is to think you don't have any. And so, there is so much we can do. So much we can do. And I think that's the most empowering part of when someone tells me there's a big problem, that's great. But if they tell me there's a big problem and I can be part of fixing it, that's so much more empowering.
ADI IGNATIUS: So you got a lot of attention for telling people that you go home at 5:30. Shouldn't we all go home at 5:30? And shouldn't we all go home at 5:30 and shut off?
SHERYL SANDBERG: We should all find ways to be able to do the things we want to do in our lives. And I not, in any of this, the book, or going home at 5:30, I'm not trying to be prescriptive and say, here's what I do and everyone should do what I do.
When I said publicly, I'm coming home at 5:30, which, I took a deep breath. I mean, that's a hard thing to admit, no matter where you are your career. But I did it on purpose to say to people, look, this is how I'm doing this. I can be both a mother and a professional. And I do it by going home at 5:30.
I also said, I go home at 5:30. My kids are young. I have dinner with them. I put them in the bath. I put them to bed. And then I get back online. We want people to have the flexibility they need. And it's not just people with children, it's people without children.
When I was in business school there was a panel, women in consulting panel, and I was thinking about going into consulting, so I went. And there were a couple women on the panel. And they asked questions, you know, how do you do it all? And there was one single woman without kids.
And she said, I'm so tired of people asking everyone else with kids, that they need to go home. It's as if going home for your kid's soccer game or your kid's is so legitimate. I need to go to a bar. I need to go to a bar so I can preserve the option that I can meet someone, so I can one day have a kid.
And so workplace flexibility is important for all of us. And for me, it's going home at 5:30. But for you it might be something else. But as much flexibility as we can give ourselves and each other.
ADI IGNATIUS: One of the phrases you use in the book is you talk about reigniting the revolution. So talk a little bit about that. How would that revolution unfold?
SHERYL SANDBERG: So I think what's happened is that women are making more and more progress at every level, except the leadership level. We've got 50% of the college degrees 30 years ago. We are getting more and more college degrees every year, more and more graduate degrees, more and more entry level jobs. But progress at the top has stalled.
Women have been 14% to 15% of the, kind of, C level jobs in corporate America for 10 years. We've been 16% to 17% of the board seats for 10 years. So it's not moving anymore. So we have to understand that, if the revolution was so that women would have an equal voice in the decisions that are made in our world, it's stalled.
And decisions are made every table. They're made in the boardroom, and they're made at the PTA meeting. And there aren't enough women sitting at those tables. And there aren't enough women sitting at the tables where decisions are made.
And so if I talk about reigniting the revolution, what I mean is, one, I want us to notice. I can't tell you how many times when I've sat-- people watch, you know, my TED talk, and it starts out with women are not getting their share of the top jobs anywhere in the world. People find that shocking. They're shocked. Really? I thought women were taking over?
Well if 15% is taking over, or 20% of the commerce-- look at the recent Congressional elections. There were all these headlines, women are taking over the Congress. 20% is not taking over. 20% is a fifth. And so we have to recognize that we're going to have to do something differently if we want more seats at the table where decisions are made. And I would like more women to have more seats at those tables.
ADI IGNATIUS: There are people who will read this book and will say, OK, there's some interesting ideas here, but is Sheryl Sandberg a reasonable role model? And it's both criticism and praise. She's top of her class at Harvard, and she has a great husband, and a great job, and she doesn't understand the struggles that other women are facing every day. And at that point there's a disconnect.
SHERYL SANDBERG: I'm incredibly fortunate. And I've had incredible opportunities, and mentors, and support. And I'm really grateful for all of that. A lot of this book is about, and a lot of the struggles, are the same struggles women face. Right? The struggle to believe in yourself. The struggle to not feel guilty. Get enough sleep. Believe that you can be both a professional and a parent.
Both anecdotally, from all the comment and letters that I got after the TED talk, end in all the research and data. These are very common themes across women. And this isn't about me. And I don't hold myself out as the role model everyone should follow.
I am trying to be honest about the choices I face. Trying to give voice to the struggles we don't talk about that women face in the workplace, so that all women, and men, can be part of moving towards an equal world.
ADI IGNATIUS: Can you talk about some concrete things that, whether it's Facebook or other companies are doing that really are getting [INAUDIBLE]?
SHERYL SANDBERG: Whole bunch of things. Organizations holding people responsible for results, not appearance of trying to get results. There is a culture of face time. It's so prevalent, that people want to hold themselves responsible for results.
We had an employee here for a while named [? Chama ?] [? Palagaya, ?] who, really famously, didn't come in very much. But he absolutely did an unbelievable job for this company. And we would all joke about it all the time. Like, nice of you to come to the office. We had an employee here for while, who really, no one had ever met, literally. No one had met this guy.
He coded, like, at his house. He really didn't like talking to people. But he built the most amazing products. And he became really well known, so no one cared if they ever saw him.
Now, not every organization can have the flexibility of Silicon Valley, certainly retail, but almost all organizations can have more flexibility. And it starts with holding people accountable for results, not the appearance of having results.
I think, talking about gender. Talking about gender. How are we going to get women to take the steps they need to take to come back after maternity leave, if we will never say to them, what are your plans? How do we talk about women, tell them not to lean back-- I call it, don't leave before you leave-- how do we talk to women about not leaving before they leave, if we're never willing to talk about it?
Just talking about gender. Ken Chenault is an amazing example. The data shows very clearly that women get interrupted more than men. If that happens in meeting Ken is at-- and I've heard this from Ken, and from others at American Express-- he's stops the meeting. And then says, you know, you just interrupted her.
That completely changes behavior. And think about the business results of that. So he's now going to run a company where you get the best results from everyone, because everyone's voice is heard at the table.
I think formal programs for mentorship and sponsorship, or, I don't know if it has to be formal or informal, but explicitly encouraging men to sponsor women. The data shows really clearly that the majority of men in the workplace are afraid to be alone with a woman. That is such a big deal. Mentorship is all about being alone with a person and talking to them one-on-one. Mentorship is all about that.
So if the majority of men in the workplace are afraid to be alone with a woman, how are we going to get me to mentor women? And if the majority of the people in positions of power are men, how do we get men to mentor and sponsor women?
I think acknowledging that we are explicitly encouraging men and women at the senior levels to mentor women, gives men not just permission, but it should be a badge of honor to be alone talking about her career and a woman. You shouldn't be someone walking by, and nervous that someone is going to see you. But you should be proud that you're having those conversations. Organizations need to do that.
ADI IGNATIUS: You obviously had a fabulous mentor in Larry Summers. I don't think I've ever had a mentor. To what extent did that help you? And then I want to ask, how does somebody find a mentor like that?
SHERYL SANDBERG: I think it helped tremendously. I've had a lot of mentors over the course of my career. Larry being one of the absolutely most important. And certainly the first. But you know, Larry offered to be my thesis adviser in college. And then he took me with him to the World Bank. And then he offered me a job at Treasury. And those opportunities are ones I wouldn't have had without him.
I think the important thing to tell, there's two different messages. The message for people in power, both men and women, is to mentor, and mentor women not just men. We tend to mentor and hire people like us. We don't mean to do it. Women do it, too.
But that means more men get mentored. And that is the perpetuation of the boys' network that I don't think anyone wants, even the men who are doing it, probably inadvertently. So I think telling them, explicitly, to mentor women.
For women, I think, we are in a very dangerous place where we keep telling women how important it is to get mentors and sponsors. So then women walk up to strangers and say, will you be my mentor? Will you be my sponsor? And that's not how it works. That's not how a relationship is formed. You have to find real ways to build a relationship. And I think getting the right message to the right group is super important.
ADI IGNATIUS: You talk a lot like-ability. And I want to ask a couple questions about that. First, and maybe data bears this out, that there's this assumption that we, that society, that people generally don't like female leaders. Why is that the default? I mean, why don't we love female leaders?
SHERYL SANDBERG: So this is really important, I think, the heart. And this is what I did not understand when I was in business school. And I didn't understand until a few years ago. Even though I kind of knew it, I felt it intuitively, but I didn't understand the data. What the data shows more strongly than anything else in the differences about men and women, is that success and like-ability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.
Which means that as someone gets more successful, they are liked less. Both men and women like them less if they're a woman. And both men women like them more if they're a man. The reason for that is that decades of social science research says that we want people to conform to our stereotypical views. We do.
And when they don't conform to our stereotypical views, we don't like them as much. As so we expect men to have some leadership qualities, to be providers, to be aggressive, to have opinions, to speak out. We expect women to have communal qualities, to be givers, and sharers, and for the common good, not for themselves. And we hold people to those stereotypes.
So when a man says here's my opinion and here's why you should do it. Or, here's why I deserve a raise. He is conforming to our stereotype and it's all good. When a woman says-- here's what we should do, here's why I want to raise, rather than here's what the team should do, here's what I want for you-- she's going against our stereotypical views, and we don't like her.
And the problem is that we want to promote and hire people who are both competent and liked. And so that's just so much easier for men than women. I think there's a short-term answer and a long-term answer. The short-term answers are, we have to talk about this honestly. Because actually talking about this changes the dynamic.
And once you start telling, if you tell people, everyone has a fine reaction to a man asking for a raise, but a negative reaction to a woman. Once you tell someone that, their reaction the next time a woman asks for a raise changes. So simply putting sunlight on that, explaining it, changes it.
The second is, we have to be-- I think we have to be realists. There's some great work going on at HBS and Harvard on women have to negotiate differently. When I was negotiating with Mark, I didn't just get to say, here's what I want to be paid. And I only did this implicitly, I haven't done the research. But I said, you're hiring me to lead your negotiating teams. You want me to be a good negotiator. I'm bringing those same skills. And then I negotiated, and I think [? a lot ?] better. So we need to teach women what to do.
But I think the real solution-- which is probably not as immediate, but is hopefully medium-term, not even long-term-- if we just got more women in leadership roles and more men in nurturing roles, our fundamental assumptions would change. And it would no longer violate our assumptions of what a woman is to see her as a leader. It wouldn't be so unusual. And then that negative reaction we're all having, would go away.
ADI IGNATIUS: At a certain level, I read your book and thought, wow, finding a great husband, I don't know how many potentials there are out there, is as good a determinant as any, for sort of--
SHERYL SANDBERG: It's the most important career decision a woman makes. Single. The single most important career decision a woman makes is, if they're going to have a life partner, and if that partner is going to support her career. And support that career does not mean, oh, honey, I support you. Support that career means getting up in the middle of the night and changing half the diapers. Number one determinate.
ADI IGNATIUS: So I feel like, anecdotally, men are getting better in that respect. Is there any data that says that?
SHERYL SANDBERG: Oh, they're getting way better. They're still doing much, much, much less than half. So a married couple, both of them work full-time, the woman will do 30% more child care and 40% more housework than a man.
So much better, than our husband's generation. But women still largely have two jobs, and men have one. And if men will do more of the home to support them. And you know, the stereotype of a successful professional woman has long been that she wasn't married. But that's not true.
Most of the successful professional women are married. Which means, they have partners. And those women have successful partners. I don't know anyone who's a successful woman who has a partner. Some don't. But that partner is not super supportive.
ADI IGNATIUS: I think I'm right in quoting you as having said at one point, that at your age-- and you're not even remotely old, 43, OK-- that it's sort of too late for your generation. And I didn't quite understand that.
SHERYL SANDBERG: I don't believe that my generation will achieve 50% of the top jobs in any industry. But I hope to still be alive when we get to 50% of Congress, or we get to 50% of the CEO jobs. But I don't believe it will be my peers that do that. I would love to be wrong.
ADI IGNATIUS: So it's not too late to join the struggle.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Absolutely. And it's not too late for our [INAUDIBLE]. And we can keep increasing, but with no progress at those 15, and 10 years, the numbers are going to have to be very, very dramatically for that to happen. And I think we need to commit ourselves to those working [? very ?] happily.
If my book is a Manifesto or Feminist Manifesto, it's one that is saying, we need to commit to real equality. And what real equality means is more women in leadership roles, and more men helping in the home.
ADI IGNATIUS: You're a Harvard Business School grad. This is HBS's 50th anniversary of accepting women there. What should HBS be doing differently? What should institutions like that be doing, before you get to the professional level?
SHERYL SANDBERG: HBS is an example in my book of one of the institutions that's actually done the best job. And I think Frances Frei and Youngme Moon are models that everyone should be following. A couple years ago, not very recently-- and Dean Nitin, I think, is a hero of this-- they came in and made it explicit that they wanted, forever at HBS-- American men have outperformed international students and women.
And they came in and said, we're going to broaden our definition of leadership. They gave a broader definition of leadership. Holding people responsible, not just for their own behavior, but for making other people better. And they worked on the soft stuff. They held everyone accountable, and then they worked on some curriculum things. But they were actually pretty small.
They had a field study, and if you look, two years they closed the educational achievement gap at Harvard. In two years. And achievement gap that was there when I was there. And what's so exciting is satisfaction of the students went up, including the American men. And that, I think, is such an important example.
So I think they had started talking about gender. They walked around and told people, women and international students, there's an academic gap between our male American students and women international students. They had started talking about why.
They broadened the definition of leadership. I mean, this is kind of, not that hard stuff to do. But they made it explicit. And they did it, in two years. And Harvard Business School is a very established institution. I think it's such a great example for what other organizations can do. But we have to talk about gender to do it. This will not happen without talking about gender.
ADI IGNATIUS: I think the biggest challenge you're going to have, and these ideas are going to have, is simply a sense that people have been fighting this battle for decades. And your book points out how small the progress has been.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. But I think now's is our time. I really believe this. That now is the time. That the external barriers, which are still there, are just so much lower than they were. And, you know, my mother was told by her parents, and her school, and her professors, and everyone, that she could be a nurse or a teacher.
That's what they told her. You have two choices. You can be a nurse or a teacher. That is not what we are. My childhood was the childhood of firsts. The first woman in space, the first Speaker of the House just happened. This is within our grasp. I really believe this is within our grasps. And HBS shows that these cultural shifts can happen. And I think if we start acknowledging what the real issues are, we can solve them. And it's not that hard if we're committed to doing it.