Women, when entering the workforce, should aim for the top: Sheryl Sandberg

The Express Awards for Women Entrepreneurs, initiated by Financial Express and FICCI-FLO, aim to reward women who have not only shown courage to take on leadership positions, but who have braved many challenges to reach the top and give the example to future entrepreneurs. The opening interview set the tone for the awards ceremony.

It’s been eight years since you wrote Lean In. If you had to rewrite everything, how much of its central thesis would you change?

I wrote Lean In in 2015 as a tech lead and put a lot of my story into it. So he read too much about women like me, white California women in tech. Now I would have put so many stories. The good news is that my foundation, Lean In, did. On the website, there are hundreds of stories from women from all countries, races, backgrounds, ages and industries. We started Lean In in circles. Our goal was to have a thousand women. Today we have over 58,000 circles worldwide, including those thriving in India.

The pandemic has been a setback for women in the workplace. Your own survey shows that 25% of women are now considering quitting their job due to burnout.

The Covid is a health crisis, an economic crisis and a crisis of gender equality. Before Covid, women around the world worked double shifts. When the workers returned home, they did most of the housework and childcare. Then Covid arrived. Now we’re on a double-double shift. It is the elderly parents who have to be taken care of, the illness, the children who come home from school, the children who must be quarantined because they are exposed.

My foundation was the first to investigate how women were going to leave the workforce. Women’s labor force participation in the United States has been at low levels for decades. Women are still not getting closer to their share of leadership roles. This is 5-7% of top CEO positions in major countries like the United States. That hasn’t changed and Covid doesn’t help.

I don’t think the trend is much different in India. Can you just remind us all of the importance of emphasizing diversity and having well-represented women in organizations?

We’ve been saying for a long time that we should have diversity because it’s the right thing to do. But the message I will give to businesses is that it’s also the smart thing to do. More diverse teams perform better. It is not only in the best interest of the company but in your personal interest to hire, promote and have a diverse management team.

All the statistics tend to show that there have never been so many women in colleges in India as there are today and there are certain subjects where there are more women than men. What advice would you give to these women when they step outside and see a glass ceiling?

Has anyone ever asked you not to become a journalist because you might want children? Of course not. You are a man. Do you know how many people have asked me this question? When men enter the workforce, we tell them to go. When women enter the workforce, we say “you can’t have it all”. Because “what having it all” means is a job and a family. But most women actually have to work, have a job and a family. So telling women they can’t do something they’ll have to do anyway is cruel and leads to the situation we find ourselves in.

When I ask women to “bend over,” they should enter the workforce striving for the top. Don’t hold back because you know what’s going to happen? Suppose you are in competition with a guy. Fast forward to 10 years when you have a family, you work for him, he gets paid more, he makes the decisions. If he works for you instead, you can afford childcare and stay in the workforce; you just give yourself options. So to all the young ladies, “you can have it all”. Go ahead and give yourself more flexibility.

The type of public scrutiny to which Meta is subjected is unprecedented anywhere in the world. The controversies surrounding Facebook’s role in misinformation, hate speech, hostility towards women and marginalized groups…how do you see all of this scrutiny unfolding and do you think your position and personal credibility as this rare female leader in big tech, does it help Meta emerge stronger from all this public scrutiny?

I don’t know if my personal credibility helps. But I’ll tell you what I know is that we have a responsibility to get it right. Mark has a responsibility, I have a responsibility, and I sit here today knowing how much we’ve invested in making sure good happens on our platform and not bad. If you go back 5 years ago, I will say that there were a lot of things that really took us by surprise. You know, Cambridge Analytica, Russian interference in the election, hate speech on the platform, we weren’t prepared like we should have been but it’s been 5 years. I say it here today, we are the leaders, we invest the most, we are the best in these areas. Now, it’s still not perfect. There are over 3 billion people on this platform, which means you can have all the good of humanity and all the bad. But our job and I show up every day and I should be held accountable is to maximize that good and minimize that bad.

What we see all over the world is people and so many people in India using Facebook to share, connect… it’s never been more important to be able to make that connection when you can’t be with people in person. And small businesses have had to go digital. When things closed, they had to contact their customers online. We’re for all these free tools and we’re the biggest platform for small businesses around the world. Our goal and I do it every day and I should be required to do it every day is to let that good happen and minimize the bad.

A question from my wife’s book club was about privilege. She said, “I can ‘bend over’ and go to work because I have the privilege of being able to hire another woman who doesn’t have that privilege to take care of my child.” How would you answer that?

Many women hold back and end up working the same hours for less pay, less responsibility, less impact and less flexibility. I ask aspirants, do you want to be CEO? All will say yes, most women will say no. As CEO, I probably have more flexibility than when I was a junior. As you gain experience, you get paid more, you have more control, and you can create more impact. So the idea that you don’t want to jump in for flexibility is a bad idea.

Is there a glass ceiling in Silicon Valley that’s hard to break?

There’s a glass ceiling, but the thing that my foundation, Lean In, really focuses on is before I even hit that glass ceiling, there’s a broken mistake and that’s that first promotion to the managerial position. Men are promoted and hired based on their potential, women have to prove it. The women fall out during the first promotion to manager. Why? Because you can’t prove to your manager until you do.

One thing you learned from women in India.

I have heard so many stories, I will only share one. There is a network manager with LinkedIn in Bengaluru who during Covid started an initiative to bring women back into the workforce by reaching out to their husbands and family members. Almost all the women who left work in his circle are now back. It’s inspiring.

Full interview at http://www.financialexpress.com