This week's New Yorker magazine has an article about Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. The article focuses on her remarks and attitudes toward the fact that so few woman are in powerful corporate and political positions. I had previously pointed readers toward an excerpt of a graduation speech Sandberg had made, and that speech may have been modeled after Sandberg's very popular TED speech on the same topic.
In the speech, Sandberg acknowledges that her (my) generation is very lucky compared with earlier generations in that there are no legal or structural barriers to women in the workplace. She then, and this is the controversial part, says very nicely but very emphatically that women hold themselves back. Women do this by underestimating themselves and shying away from challenges. She has three points to make to women beginning their career:
1. Sit at the table. Don't shy away; don't hesitate; don't doubt yourself.
2. Make your partner your real partner. Marriages where household responsibilities are shared are stronger as well as necessary for women's career success.
3. Don't leave before you leave. Don't put yourself on a mommy track years before you become a mommy. Be at the top of your game when you have your first child, then you will have a reason to come back.
Now, some commentators aren't happy with Sandberg's message because she doesn't address sexism, overt or nuanced, old boy networks or glass ceilings. Sandberg hasn't demanded to be on the all-male Facebook board and wasn't on the Google board. Others say she is out of touch with the problems that most women face because she was lucky to have a "sponsor" that was Larry Summers. Perhaps, but many watchers seem to be empowered by the vision of owning their choices instead of spotting hindrances.
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