Sheryl Sandberg, “Why do we have too few women leaders?”

Chief Operating Officer at Facebook sends empowering messages for working women

Sheryl Sandberg TEDtalk
Foto: Jewish Women Archive (Paul Burns / Getty Images)

Globally, the percentage of women in Senior Management is increasing incrementally. In 2019 the proportion of women in senior management roles increased by around 29% - accounting for the highest number ever achieved - however in 2020 this percentage remained the same.

When we talk about the gender gap, we tend to think straight away to the difference between women and men when it comes to salaries, the number of leaders and participation in the workplace. Despite all that being true, it goes further than that.

Women are over-represented in support functions like administration and according to 2020 results 40% of directors in HR are women, yet compared to the 17% of chief marketing officers and 16% of chief information officers, it is a very low number. Going further, according to the UN Women resources, out of 190 heads of state just 22 countries have women as Heads of State or Government, and out of all the people in parliament in the world, 25% are women.

Luckily, more women are stepping in and are fighting to close this gender gap, that is why today we are writing about Sheryl Sandberg, an American technology executive, activist, and Chief Operating Officer at Facebook since 2008. Sheryl Sandberg’s focus on positioning Facebook as a platform for small business advertising helped increase ad revenue by 27% during 2019, to $69.7 billion.

Sheryl Sandberg is one of a handful of women to reach the upper ranks of corporate executives and some years ago she gave a very motivational Ted Talk sending empowering messages for women who want to stay in the workforce and changed many women’s life around the world.

Why do we have too few women leaders?” is the question many of us ask ourselves but never come up with a clear answer. In this talk, Sheryl Sandberg acknowledges that discrimination and sexism are recurrent barriers for women in the workplace and that sometimes it is even women who are their own worst enemies when it comes to career promotion. She points out three main aspects or messages to women who want to stay in the workforce and move towards leadership.

She first mentions how women systematically underestimate their own abilities and give credit to people who have helped them for their achievements, while men usually tend to attribute their success to themselves. She illustrates this with an example of a situation she witnessed: in a meeting she attended, a male executive seated himself at the table, while two female executives from the same company seated themselves along the wall, even though Sheryl Sandberg advised the women to sit at the table. “No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they do not think they do not deserve their own success” – said Sheryl Sandberg during the talk.

Another issue that is brought up during the talk, is how even women who are full-time workers in their workplace, do twice the housework and three times the childcare than men do -who also work full time-. Who do you think drops out when someone needs to be home more? Because of that, at the end of the day, many women have to make a choice between professional success and personal fulfillment, allowing their careers to stagnate.

In addition to this, a study from past years showed that around 57% of men negotiate for their first salary, compared to 7% of women. This data shows that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.

Sheryl Sandberg also explains that when women decide to have a child or start a family, they have to think how to find time to fit all in their lives, and when they stop pushing for a better project, they do not reach anymore for the promotion. Therefore, it is so important that work is challenging, and as interesting as possible, because if women exclude themselves from rewarding jobs or promotions, after 9 months of pregnancy and 3 months of maternity leave it will be more difficult to get back, because they did not keep their foot on the gas pedal.

It is unfortunate that we still need to talk about the gender gap and how far we still have to go and remind ourselves that domestic duties need to be respected as much as success to get more equality here.

Yet, Sheryl Sandberg leaves us with three clear messages. Number one, sit at the table and own your own success. Number two, make your partner a real partner. And, number three, keep your foot on the gas pedal until the day you really have to leave.

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