Video: FaceBook COO Sheryl Sandberg Shares Reasons For Society's Lack of Women Leaders

In this 14:58 video, FaceBook COO Sheryl Sandberg discusses why there are so few women leaders in today's society. She starts by sharing some sobering statistics: (1) of 190 heads of state, only 9 are women; (2) only 15% of parliamentarians in the world are women; and (3) the number of women in top positions in the for-profit corporate sector tops out at about 15%.

She also points to a recent US study showing that, of married senior managers, 2/3 of the men had children while only 1/3 of the women had children. As a former corporate attorney, wife, and mother of two young children (one boy and one girl), these issues are incredibly significant to me.

Sheryl offers three reasons for the lack of women leaders in today's society. While I don't agree with everything, and I think it's nearly impossible to narrow it down to just three things (though she probably had no choice due to time constraints) I think each of her points are well taken. Here they are, paraphrased of course:

  1. Sit at the table. Sheryl tells of a meeting she attended with a male executive who was accompanied by two professional women, both of whom declined her offer to sit at the conference table during the meeting. Instead, they sat on the sidelines, behind everyone at the table.

    Women systematically underestimate their position and their ability to make meaningful contributions. For example, a study shows that 75% of men negotiated their first salary, while only 7% of women negotiate theirs.

    Sheryl says that men are likely attribute their success to being good at something, while women tend to attribute their success to hard work, luck, or having good help.

    No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines, says Sheryl. And it's time to end a world where success and likability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women.

  2. Make your partner a real partner. Sheryl says that data shows that, among married couples where with full-time working spouses, the wife performs twice the amount of housework as the husband, and provides three times the amount of child care as the husband. Of course, says Sheryl, if one drops out of the work force, it will likely be the wife.

    While Sheryl acknowledges that the reasons for this outcome are complicated, she partially attributes it to society placing more pressure on boys, than girls, to succeed.

    Sheryl also encourages us to make sure that each spouse contributes equally to housework and child rearing. As a side benefit, she says, studies show that couples who do this experience a lower overall divorce rate and a better sex life.

    Quick kudos to my husband, who works with me in our business and performs at least as much housework and hands on child care than me. And yes, it makes a huge difference in our personal lives.

  3. Don't leave before you leave. Sheryl cautions women not to begin to behave like they are going to (or may) drop out of the work force until they actually make the decision to go. Don't “lean back,” she says, just because you think you may one day get married and have children. Sheryl says that, if a professional woman ever does have a child, she will never return to the traditional workforce (assuming she has a choice (I added that part)) unless she really loves her job.

    Since a person will love a job only if it continuously challenges and excites her, women who lean back early miss out on opportunities to make a job everything it could be. In such cases, she says, by the time they have to take some maternity leave, they don't like their jobs enough to return to them, and so they don't They drop out.

I have seen all of this up close and personal. As a young, unmarried attorney, I watched women behave in the ways Sheryl discusses here. Even I did. I did not attempt to negotiate my first salary, for example. While I always took a seat at the conference table, I did begin to lean back once I decided to marry and have children.

Perhaps my case of leaning back was a bit different in this respect because by the time I started doing so, I knew I wanted to leave and start my own business. (And yes, one of the reasons I wanted to lead my own company is because, despite my qualifications, I did not see opportunities to lead someone else's and be able to parent in the way I wanted to parent.) Still, Sheryl's points make me wonder whether, had I not leaned back, I might have enjoyed my job enough, and advanced enough, to want to return to work after the birth of my first child. As I look back, I think the chances of that are pretty slim, especially since I love my work as CEO of INDIE Business Media and leader of the INDIE Business Network. I do wonder sometimes though.

Question: Lots of controversial issues here. What stands out for you? Do you agree or disagree with any of Sheryl's points?

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.