There has been much media coverage about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In initiative. A number of my coaching clients read it when it came out. But more recently I’ve been involved in a research project. Most participants had heard of Lean In, but few knew much beyond media headlines.
Sandberg previously worked at Google and the US Treasury prior to joining Zuckerberg’s top team at Facebook. She gave a TEDTalk in 2010 entitled Why we have too few women Leaders?
In her talk she discusses her own career experiences and observations, backed up by research evidence. She advises aspiring female leaders to:
Sit at the Table
Sandberg gives a number of examples from work and college experiences where she and other women held back from participating, promoting and advocating for themselves. Confidence is one barrier. But she suggests one other reason why women hold back. Success and likeability are positive correlated for men but negatively correlated for women. Or simply put – successful woman are not as well liked as successful men.
Don’t leave before you leave
Sandberg suggests that once women start thinking about having a family they often stop moving forward in their career (e.g. applying for career promotions). The concern here is that a woman’s career can become stagnant and may not offer sufficient challenge. If they do have a child and take maternity leave, the job they are going back to may not be all that attractive or challenging.
Make your partner a real partner.
She shares data that if both a man and woman work full time, the woman does twice more house work and three times more childcare. She believes there is a wider societal issue at play. Society expects men to be successful but does not have the same expectation of women. Women who display leadership potential are often labelled ‘bossy’.
Following the TEDTalk, Sandberg went on to publish Lean In. In her book she adds to these recommendations and provides more insights. There is also a website which offers free tools and resources (Lean In Website)
McKinsey have been involved in research in this area since 2007. In their most recent report Unlocking the Full Potential of Women at Work they gathered data from 60 corporations. These were all US based, Fortune 500 companies or were of similar size (Coca-Cola, Time Warner, Sodexo and Baxter). Their research suggests that the bigger issue may be that few females aspire to reach the highest levels of leadership. 18% of females wanted to reach the C-Suite – 50% fewer than male respondents. Dialogue and debate about gender diversity will continue for some time to come.