"I could not have gotten more headlines if I had murdered someone with an axe." That's author Ken Auletta's characterization of the fervent, wildly divergent and huge public response Sheryl Sandberg received after her video interview for the PBS documentary MAKERS. What was her provocative comment? That she left the office at five-thirty to have dinner with her family.
Earlier, she'd spoken at Facebook Women, an in-house resource group at work. "When asked the (inevitable) question about how I balanced my job and my family," she said, she replied that she left at five-thirty and, after the children were in bed, she went online to get more work done.
1. Speak out, yet stay human
Taking stands for what you believe in is core to Sandberg's credo in her new book, Lean In. She urges women to "lean in" to their career and not hold back, as she feels that women have been conditioned to do. Yet, her expressed trepidation in being bold gives her approachability:
I wanted to encourage others to personalize their schedules too. Even though I had planned in advance to discuss this, I felt nervous. Years of conditioning had taught me never to suggest that I was doing anything other than giving 100 percent to my job. It was scary to think that someone, even people working for me, might doubt my diligence or dedication. Fortunately, that did not happen.
Sandberg's willingness to be vulnerable is part of what builds bonds with others, according to Brene Brown, who also believes courage, for both women and men, is born out of choosing to be vulnerable. Yet others who emulate Sandberg's public stands may not get the same supportive response from their work colleagues. That is what makes such acts daring.
2. Work to deserve smart mentors who are stellar in your profession
Sandberg's ability to take strong, sometimes controversial stands may well have been bolstered by having strong, some would say alpha male, mentors including Larry Summer and Tim Geithner (she is godmother to Geithner's daughter). Sandberg met Summers when taking his public sector economics class. She doesn't indicate why he took her under his wing, yet she must have stood out in some way: "He offered to supervise my senior thesis -- something very few Harvard professors volunteers to do for undergraduates." She also doesn't say why Washington Post chairman Don Graham "helped me navigates some of my most challenging professional situations," yet she clearly has a gift for attracting extremely successful mentors, including Arianna Huffington, Gene Sperling and Oprah Winfrey. For Sandberg, that may be an undefinable capacity, yet it did play a vital role in her success.
Don't seek out strangers as mentors, Sandberg advises. "The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides." That's been my experience too. My most transformational mentoring relationship sprung out of my work for my boss, a bureau chief at the newspaper where I worked. I was the first woman to work for him who wasn't covering the society beat. He was a self-described curmudgeon, often blunt, blasphemous and unbending yet extremely smart and seasoned in the news business. My unrelentingly "Pollyanna-style questions" (as he dubbed them) irked him, yet he eventually warmed up. He gave candid and extremely specific feedback about my talents and weaknesses as a journalist. We wound up becoming fans and supporters for each other through the peaks and valleys in our careers. As Sandberg discovered, getting mentored well spurs us to mentor others.
3. Reduce the number of "benevolent sexists"
Men in "modern marriages" with wives who work full-time outside of the home view "the presence of women in the workplace more favorably" than men in "traditional marriages" do, she said in her TED Talk. The later group "also denied promotions to qualified female employees more often and were more likely to think that companies with a higher percentage of female employees ran less smoothly." These "benevolent sexists" were largely unconscious of their bias, according to Sandberg. She cited the Heidi/HowardHoward study that shows we tend to "want to work with people who are like us," and research that shows that "success and likability are negatively correlated for women." In response, she calls for two changes: Make workplaces more amenable to women succeeding and for women to act more boldly on behalf of their career advancement.
4. Make your partner a genuine partner
"Wives who engage in gate keeping behaviors do five more hours of family work per week than wives who take a more collaborative approach," writes Sandberg in her book. "Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal -- and equally capable -- partner," and citing Gloria Steinem, she adds, "It's not about biology, but about consciousness."
5. Who was the foremost female figure at Davos?
Be willing to stand for something important to stand out. One clear benefit that Sandberg models for women who choose to lean into their career while also taking public stands that are relevant and authentic to their experience is that they become more widely visible and valuable than others who may be equally successful at work, yet have not taken daring stands. There was much public cheering and some private grumbling from other women at Davos this year as Sandberg became a magnet for attention.Yet, expect some flack.
6. It's not about "having it all," but making it all better
In this inspirational book, Sandberg cites several other studies about bias in the workplace, by women and by men. For each, she offers concrete suggestions on how to make our work and home life more satisfying and successful. Like Anne-Marie Slaughter, she doesn't believe that women can have it all, yet we can work smartly towards attaining more, in ways that make it better for us all.