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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Two Things Sheryl Sandberg Says She Would Do To Make Things Better For Women 03-13

The Two Things Sheryl Sandberg Says She Would Do To Make Things Better For Women

By Susan Adams, Forbes Staff

Yesterday afternoon I got a chance to meet Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In, the much-discussed book about the need for women to take it upon themselves to strive for leadership roles. It was the day Sandberg was officially launching her book, which had already gotten a huge amount of publicity, including a segment on “60 Minutes” and a Time magazine cover package with eight stories devoted to Sandberg’s ideas. Yesterday she had a packed schedule, including an appearance on “Good Morning America,” an evening panel discussion moderated by Time’s Nancy Gibbs and a piece on “Nightline.” Today she’s making an appearance at a Manhattan Barnes & Noble to talk about the book with Chelsea Clinton. All of this has already propelled the book to the No. 1 sales spot on Amazon.
I had written an early, positive review of Sandberg’s book that, to my surprise, elicited a flattering, self-deprecating email directly from Sandberg telling me how much she liked my piece and volunteering to send me an autographed copy “if that is not too cheesy.” In decades writing dozens of book reviews, this was the first time I had ever heard from an author. The review also scored me an invitation to a cocktail party in a restaurant called Landmarc, at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, attended by 30 or so bloggers and journalists who have covered feminism and women’s issues, plus Sandberg’s parents, who had flown up from Florida for the book launch.
Meeting her, I was instantly clear on why Sandberg has become such a career superstar, and why the speculation that she might run for political office makes sense. She comes off the way she does in the book—super smart, hyper articulate, charismatic yet vulnerable. She’s also beautiful, and knows how to wear clothes, this time a fitted navy dress with a discreet amount of cleavage, a gold bracelet and daunting black patent leather pumps with platforms and five-inch heels. I was amazed that she remembered specifics about my online piece and said to me three times that she was glad I had started it by saying that I hadn’t thought I would like the book.
Another surprise was how quick she was to answer questions about the institutionalized barriers to women’s advancement. This has been the chief criticism of her book: that she puts the onus on women to get ahead and ignores the many ways that American companies and government make it tough to balance raising a family with handling a demanding job. Though she got a little flustered when I asked her what she thought of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Sunday New York Times Book Review piece about Lean In (“Is that what they do – not use a neutral reviewer?”), she quickly recovered, noting that Slaughter had written a “glowing review,” adding “I think she and I care about the same thing and are working toward the same goals.” Though Sandberg’s emphasis is, as she puts it, “the stereotypes we internalize that hold us back,” she insists she wants external change as much as Slaughter does. (Slaughter is a Princeton professor and former State Department official who wrote the much-read Atlantic piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” about how tough it is for women to hold high-level jobs and be effective parents, given the lack of institutional support.)
So which external barriers would Sandberg change, given the choice, I asked her in a question-and-answer session. If she could pick one government reform and one corporate reform, what would they be? She didn’t hesitate: Federally subsidized paid leave for both mothers and fathers and in the corporate realm the No. 1 policy that must change is “flexibility,” which I assume also means paid leave, plus varied work hours and telecommuting to accommodate the demands of parenting and family life.
At another point Sandberg touched on a third institutional problem she believes needs attention, affordable child care, noting that the median child care cost for two kids is more than the median rent for most families. “I’m very in favor of reform in this area,” she said stridently if a little vaguely.
I was fascinated when another woman asked a question about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s reported decision to put an end to telecommuting at the troubled Internet company. Presumably not wanting to wade into another pool of controversy and be portrayed by the media as critical of a fellow female leader in Silicon Valley, Sandberg deftly dodged the question. “I really think no one knows what’s going on at Yahoo so I really can’t speak to it at all,” she said. “I think the real issue that’s going on with Marissa is there are too few women in leadership roles.”
On the subject of institutional reforms, Sandberg returned to a statistic in her book: In European countries where, she said, “they have every institutional policy we could want and every public policy we could want,” only 1% of big companies are run by women. Sandberg wants to change that and she thinks the path to success involves attacking “the stereotypes that hold women back,” both internal and external.
What about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s critique that Sandberg’s “is a young woman’s book”? Sandberg quickly volunteered that her mother, who is turning 70, has decided she wants to have a bat mitzvah, because when she was growing up, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony was reserved for boys.  “I think the lessons in Lean In are for women of all ages,” Sandberg said.

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