Advice To Women From Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg

I recently watched this inspiring video of a TED talk given by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facbook. She discusses ways in which we can address the fact that there are too few women leaders in business, government, and the non-profit sector. To be sure, there are a number of social forces that have led to this inequity. However, Sandberg's talk discusses what women as individuals can do to challenge inequality and achieve success in their own lives. Many of her arguments resonated deeply with me.

Change Starts with Yourself

There's a parable about a man who, when he is young, wants to change the world. As he grows a bit older and wiser, he wants to change his country. As he progresses in years even more, he wants to change his community. And finally, on his death bed, he wishes he had been able simply to change himself. The bottom line is that we can't help society progress unless we try to grow personally and attempt to lead lives that do not contribute to the very problems we are trying to change.

Sandberg's talk illustrates this point quite well. There is still systemic sexism permeating many facets of American culture. And part of the solution is systemic. There are large-scale changes that need to be made to put an end to outdated ways of thinking and stereotypes that deny women true equality in the workplace and in our culture at large. However, it is empowering to understand that there are many things that we as women can do personally to have an impact upon society.

For example, Sandberg says that one reason that women do not progress to the tops of organizations as frequently as men is that they underestimate their own abilities. If a man succeeds, he feels it is due to his inherent talent. But if a woman succeeds, she says it is because she had help, she was lucky, or she worked very hard. Women often do not have as much confidence in their talents as men. So, if individual women make an effort to own their success and believe in their talent, their confidence and skill will be evident and they will be promoted, combating negative stereotypes of women in the process.

Photo courtesy of Working Word

Voice Your Needs

In her talk, Sandberg discusses the fact that, in families where both the husband and wife work full-time, the woman does twice as much of the housework as the man and three times as much of the child rearing. I do not think this is because most men are truly sexist and lack the desire to have an equal relationship with their wives. I think the idea that women are more responsible for the home life than men has been socially ingrained in both men and women for generations. Women take on more of the work because they feel it is just what women do.

It is my opinion that most women have a natural predisposition to be caretakers - probably more than men. But equally dividing responsibility for child rearing and housework is important for many reasons. It allows women to put more effort into succeeding at work, it gives children the benefit of feeling cared for by their fathers, and it promotes a sense of partnership which is crucial for a healthy marriage. So women need to be able to speak to their husbands about their needs, and men, certainly, need to be open to that dialog.

Photo courtesy of We News

Believe You Deserve It

As I mentioned above, Sandberg discusses the fact that women value their talents less highly than men. Men tend to have more confidence in their abilities than women. To be sure, this mindset is not rooted in fact. It is largely do the fact that, as studies have shown, women who are openly confident and successful are often thought of as being out for themselves, whereas men with the same qualities are seen as very likeable. So, women undervalue themselves out of fear that they won't be liked if they seem too confident.

As a result, women start to internalize this less capable image of themselves. After this internalization is complete, women shift from refraining from saying positive things about themselves to actually feeling unworthy of praise or success, at least to some degree. They start to actually believe they are less capable than their co-workers. And this is where making personal changes comes in. By believing in their abilities, women will themselves to feel deserving of success. In turn, they will progress further in the workplace and, as more and more women achieve this, they will become living proof that successful women are not unlikable. So while there are many social, organizational, and systemic changes that need to be made to promote a truly equitable culture and workplace, there are many things women can do in their own lives, as well.