Already a lightning rod for arguing that women must "lean in," push hard and do more to advance their own careers, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg is doubling down on the debate with a high-profile book launch next week and a nationwide campaign to form a network of support groups for working women.
"The blunt truth is that men still run the world," she says in "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead," her new book that combines personal anecdotes, career advice and what she describes as "sort of a feminist manifesto." She adds: "Social gains are never handed out. They must be seized."
The unusual campaign, which the wealthy Sandberg is financing from her book proceeds, has drawn a mix of cheers and skepticism from other women's advocates. Some are thrilled that such a prominent tech figure, who has held top jobs at Google (GOOG) and Facebook, is actively championing women's advancement. Others wonder if the 43-year-old Sandberg, a onetime chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, wants to spark a social movement or simply launch the next stage in her career, perhaps even a bid for public office.
Sandberg is clearly "sticking her neck out" on a controversial topic, said Laura Kray, a management professor who studies gender at UC Berkeley. Kray said Sandberg's plan to launch a network of "Lean In Circles" is ambitious in scope and unprecedented as an effort to help women get ahead.
"She's in a unique position to sell this message and get it out there," Kray added.
Sandberg, whose Facebook stock holdings are estimated at more than $400 million, is personally funding the nonprofit foundation, LeanIn.org, that has developed a detailed curriculum for the discussion circles, with online videos and tutorials on such topics as negotiating, body language and leadership, from Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
"Lean in" is Sandberg's advice to women who are often conditioned to do just the opposite. Women are too reluctant to negotiate for higher salaries and other rewards, she says, while being too quick to "lean back" from their careers in anticipation of having children -- passing up promotions or additional responsibilities before they are pregnant or even married. They also need husbands or partners to share equally in housework and child-raising, she adds.
Not surprisingly, given Sandberg's ties with two of tech's hottest companies, the campaign has a Silicon Valley flavor. There's a website with personal testimonials from an array of business, political and entertainment figures, including Oprah Winfrey and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. There's also a Facebook page and software for online sharing from Palo Alto startup Mightybell, whose CEO, Gina Bianchini, is a cofounder of LeanIn.org.
Sandberg is using her own star power to promote the book and the foundation, kicking off with an interview Sunday night on CBS's "60 Minutes," followed by a three-part series on ABC's "Good Morning America" and serialized excerpts in Cosmopolitan and Time. As a former Google executive who is now chief operating officer at Facebook, Sandberg is both prominent and one of few women in the highest echelons of tech.
While acknowledging her advice won't work for everyone, Sandberg urges women to change their approach if they want parity at the top. But she has seen a backlash against her argument that women must do more to "raise their hands" and promote themselves, which she first outlined at a 2010 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference.
Sandberg has been praised for speaking frankly. And studies show that women's progress, as measured by their numbers in higher management, has slowed. But she has also drawn fire from critics who say the affluent, Harvard University-educated executive, who benefited from powerful mentors and other advantages, is putting all the burden on women to succeed in businesses where a multitude of institutional and individual biases still favor men.
The debate intensified last winter, after Sandberg said she would expand her views in a book. Accusing her of "blaming the victim," consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote in the Harvard Business Review, "How much harder do you want them to lean in? ... Sandberg does not serve other women well by pretending that companies are a meritocracy that just requires individual effort."
Bloggers and pundits joined in. When The New York Times reported on Sandberg's plans for Lean In Circles, hundreds posted comments online.
"This is a bunch of crock. One very fortunate woman has the gall to believe she has the answer for everyone else," wrote one Times reader. "Perhaps Ms. Sandberg can spring for child care and housecleaning while I work on becoming a superwoman."
The passion over Sandberg's comments shows how deeply many women feel about the competing demands of career and family, Kray said. The outcry also prompted others to rise in Sandberg's defense, arguing that critics have oversimplified her advice.
"She recognizes there are things that have to change in the outside world, but women also need strategies to navigate the world as they find it," said Joan Williams, an expert on work and family issues at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law.
Sandberg acknowledges sexism and institutional obstacles in her book, calling for government and business to provide flexible hours, family leave and the ability to work from home. She characterizes the debate over internal and external barriers to women's advancement as a "chicken and egg" question.
"My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power," she writes. "I am encouraging women to address the chicken, but I fully support those who are focusing on the egg."
As for criticism she's using the campaign to advance herself -- she has been mentioned as a future CEO or even U.S. Senate candidate -- Sandberg's friends disagree. Supporters note she's already on the shortlist of women likely to be recruited for CEO jobs, although she has shown no sign of wanting to leave the No. 2 post at Facebook.
Bianchini said she approached Sandberg last year with the idea of forming small groups of women to share career tips and ideas from her book. Sandberg's embrace of that idea "is a testament to her passion for creating solutions," added Bianchini, who said 40 women donated time and ideas to the project.
The foundation also recruited corporate sponsors to endorse the program but did not ask them for financial support. It plans to distribute materials online without charge.
Using the Internet and social media could be a powerful way for women to share tips and support one another, said Kjerstin Thorson, a University of Southern California expert on digital media and social activism. "It's very exciting. But it will be important to check back in several months and see if she's able to sustain public attention."
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022. Follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.
Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg has given few interviews before her book launch, but she's kicking off a major media campaign with a taped appearance Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes." Here are some excerpts from that interview:
On taking credit: "Women attribute their success to working hard, luck and help from other people. Men will attribute whatever success they have to their own core skills."
On women who don't lean forward: "They say, 'Oh, I'm busy. I want to have a child one day. I couldn't possibly take on any more.' Or 'I'm still learning on my current job.' I've never had a man say that stuff to me."
On sharing the load at home: "You cannot have a full career and a full life at home with your children if you are also doing all the housework and child care."
On assigning blame: "I'm not blaming women. There's an awful lot we don't control. I'm saying there's an awful lot we can control and we can do for ourselves, to sit at more tables, raise more hands."
And finally: "I'm not saying that everyone has the resources or opportunities I have. I'm not saying that everyone's husband is going to wake up tomorrow and start doing his share. I am saying that we need to help women own the power they have, learn how to negotiate for raises, get the pay they deserve."
Source: CBS News
As a companion to Sheryl Sandberg's book, the nonprofit LeanIn.org foundation is promoting a program for women who want to follow up on her suggestions. These are the main elements:
"Community": A website and Facebook page where women and men can share personal stories about careers or related issues.
"Education": A series of free online video tutorials on topics such as leadership and negotiation, largely developed by Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Studies.
"Circles": Guidelines for women to form small peer groups that meet regularly to discuss the tutorials and their own experiences. These include detailed instructions and meeting timetables, although a spokeswoman said circles are free to treat them as suggestions.
Source: Staff reporting