Number two at Facebook, estimated to be worth $1.6 billion when Facebook goes public, Sheryl Sandberg will become that rarest of all corporate species: the female self-made billionaire. As she enjoys this moment of extraordinary success, she takes an important message to women in the workplace: how women can succeed.
When I read about her message on women and success – "keep your foot on the gas pedal," be responsible for your own success – my hackles went up. Hey, wait a minute: Don't blame women for a cock-eyed corporate culture where women still work way harder for less success than men do.
In addition, I tended to agree with the writer of a New York Times story that criticized Sandberg for preaching from a very exalted place, citing her golden path from Harvard and the Harvard Business School to the World Bank, the treasury department and Google before she joined Facebook four years ago.
A Facebook Billionaire's Rules for Success
Then I clicked over to YouTube and read Sandberg's speech. What she has to say really makes sense for women who want to go the distance in the corporate world. Here are the bullet points: Women are woefully way behind: among 190 heads of state worldwide, a mere 9 are women; only 15% of top level corporate executives are women, and that number is not waxing but waning.
"The problem, I'm convinced, is that women are dropping out," Sandberg says. Juggling work and kids is the age-old issue. Sandberg, who has two children, talks about peeling her crying three-year-old off her leg to catch a plane. Sandberg says we have to stand tough, work hard, and stick out. She has three rules for success.
Sit at the table. Women hang back, underestimate their abilities, while men classically overestimate. We don't fight for ourselves in the workforce, Sandberg says, citing the statistic that only 7% of women negotiate their first salary. "Ask men why they did a good job and they'll say, 'I'm awesome.'" Sandberg says. "If you ask women why they did a good job, what they'll say is someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard." To reach the corner office you have to own your success, reach for a promotion.
I'm with Sandberg here 100%.
Make your partner a real partner. If a working woman and a working man have a child, the woman does twice as much housework and three times as much child care, studies tell us. Sandberg tells us we have to get our husbands on board to do their share, observing that marriages where the spouses' earnings and responsibilities are equal have half the divorce rate.
I'm with her here too.
Don't leave before you leave. The minute a woman begins thinking about having a baby, she starts thinking about fitting a family into her life. Here's the pitfall: from that moment, she doesn't look for a promotion, take on a big project. This is where Sandberg says the gas pedal comes in. You have go full steam ahead, work hard, create opportunities for yourself so your job will be challenging and interesting when you return from maternity leave.
Thumbs up on that too.
Okay, Sandberg's got really smart things to say. And we women do have to clean up our act, walk tall and carry a big portfolio.
A Big Job Is Great. What About a Big Life?
But wait a minute. Sandberg is talking to women who want to become top executives – the corporate world's 1%. What about the other 99% — the women who want rewarding work as well as a chance to spend significant time with their children? Can't we make room for this pathway too?
By making women responsible for their own future, Sandberg is shortchanging the ones who don't want what she's got. I'm one of them. I wouldn't trade the two and a half years I spent home with my daughter before I returned to work for a billion dollar IPO. And I'm so proud of my daughter, who is balancing part-time work with caring for her six-month-old son (she's lucky to have a husband who's a full partner in everything they do).
Yes, women need to aim high. But they also need to think about what they're aiming for. I remember the old saying, "Nobody regrets the meeting they missed, but they'll spend the rest of their lives mourning that soccer game they missed."
I'd add a fourth point to Sandberg's speech, and make it number one with a bullet: Change the Corporation. Women (and men) should fight for jobs that challenge and reward them, but they should also push companies to create ways for both women and men to balance work and family, so they can work hard and smart at the office, and still spend plenty of time with their kids. Who better than Facebook to lead the charge.