Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In” — part feminist manifesto, part how-to career guide — has got a lot of people talking.
In the weeks leading up to the book’s release on Monday, pundits and press hounds have been debating its merits. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called Sandberg a “PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots,” and countless bloggers have suggested that Facebook’s chief operating officer is the wrong person to lead a women’s movement.
“Most of the criticism has to do with the position she is coming from,” said Susan Yohn, professor and chair of Hofstra University’s history department.
Sandberg, 43, hopes that her message of empowerment won’t be obscured by the lofty pedestal from which she speaks. But is the multi-millionaire with two Harvard degrees too rich to offer advice? Too successful?And just how big is her house?
The book acknowledges that critics might discount her feminist call to action with an easy-for-her-to-say shrug. “My hope is that my message will be judged on its merits,” she writes in the preamble.
It’s true that Sandberg is wealthy. She also has a supportive husband. Mark Zuckerberg is her boss. And yes, her home in Menlo Park, Calif., has 9,000 square feet.
But as a woman in Silicon Valley, Sandberg hasn’t exactly had it easy, and her tale shows she’s no armchair activist. After all, not many women would march into their boss’ office and demand special parking for expectant mothers. But Sandberg did just that when she worked at Google. Company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin complied.
After Sandberg moved to Facebook in 2008, she became even more outspoken on the issues facing women in corporate America. And she’s no workaholic. In an age of endless work hours, Sandberg is famous for leaving the office at 5:30 p.m. to spend time with her family. She does admit, however, to picking up work once her kids have gone to bed.
Of the many slogans that hang on Facebook’s walls, her favorite asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” “Lean In” is about pushing past fear.
“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face,” she writes. “Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”
Sandberg peppers the book with studies, reports and personal anecdotes to back up her premise — that for reasons both in and out of their control, there are fewer female leaders than male in the business world and beyond. For example, the Fortune 500 has only 21 female CEOs. Sandberg is among the 14 percent of women who hold executive officer positions and the 16 percent of women who hold board of director seats, according to Catalyst.org.
For minority women, the numbers are even bleaker. Women of color, she writes, hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs and 3 percent of board seats.
“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world,” she writes. “The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve.”
Sandberg’s book comes half a century after Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” which identified “the problem that has no name” among largely white, suburban housewives who felt unhappy and unfulfilled in their roles at home. Friedan, too, was criticized for focusing on a privileged swath of womankind.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, whom Sandberg thanks in the acknowledgements and cites as inspiration, praises “Lean In” on her Facebook page, saying that it “addresses internalized oppression, opposes external barriers that create it and urges women to support each other to fight both.”
She adds that even the book’s critics “are making a deep if inadvertent point: Only in women is success viewed as a barrier to giving advice.” ‘Lean In’ Tips
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s No. 2 executive, offers a blueprint for change in “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Here are five tips from Sandberg’s book.
• Sit at the table. She urges institutions and individuals to encourage and promote women. And she encourages women to sit at the table and raise their hands. Men are already doing it, after all.
• When negotiating, “Think personally, act communally.” Preface salary negotiations by explaining that you know women often get paid less than men, so you are going to “negotiate rather than accept the original offer,” she writes. This way, women can position themselves as connected to a group. Whenever possible, she adds, use “we” instead of “I.”
• Don’t sacrifice being liked for being successful. Sandberg recalls her first formal performance review with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a few months after she started her job. He told her that her desire to be liked by everyone would hold her back. He said, “when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone.” He was right, she writes.
• Take risks. Sandberg writes that in her experience, more men look for assignments that stretch their abilities and are high-profile. More women hang back, especially when they’re working closely with men. Women, she writes, “need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.’ ”
• Make your partner a real partner. “As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home,” Sandberg writes. “I have seen so many women inadvertently discourage their husbands from doing their share by being too controlling or critical.”Barbara Ortutay is a technology reporter for The Associated Press. Follow Barbara Ortutay on Twitter at twitter.com/BarbaraOrtutay