BOSTON — At a sold out WBUR event Thursday night, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, argued that for women to be fairly represented in leadership roles, institutions and gender stereotypes need to be reformed.
Sandberg, who was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at the Coolidge Corner Theater as she discussed her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” with Here & Now’s Robin Young, said gender stereotyping occurs early in a child’s life and is a major issue for the way women eventually view themselves in the workplace.
“Stereotypes are very deeply held and they’re hard to change,” Sandberg says. “Those stereotypes that start in childhood continue into the workplace, and they lead to the success and likability penalty that women pay.”
In her book, Sandberg points to research that reveals women downplay their own accomplishments and largely attribute their own success to “working hard, help from others, and luck,” while men attribute success to “core skills.”
“If you attribute what you achieve to luck and help from others, well, they may not show up next time. And so what we see is women systematically reach for less opportunities than men,” Sandberg says.
Beyond the systematic problem, Sandberg says that women bear their own responsibility when it comes to being successful. They need to be assertive, ambitious and more self-confident. Otherwise, she says, women are holding themselves back.
Some critics have attacked Sandberg’s “lean in” philosophy, saying her advice blames women for being unable to succeed in the working world. Sandberg, however, addressed this issue at the top of the evening, saying that the debate sparked from her book is a good way to create change.
Sandberg also spoke about maintaining a balance between work and motherhood. She has publicly stated that she goes home at 5:30 p.m. every night to have dinner with her kids — a gesture some critics have said many mothers either do not want or cannot afford.
“There are women who, first of all, are not COOs,” says Young, referencing some of those critics. “And they don’t feel like they have the safety nets that you might have at work to say things like, ‘I’m going to shorten my day.’ ”
Sandberg says as women assume more leadership roles, flex time in their work schedules will come into form.
“The data is super clear that when there are women in more senior leadership roles there is more work-life flexibility, and we have to believe in that,” she says.
After the event, Sandberg stuck around for a meet-and-greet and answered questions from the audience.
Sandberg’s book, which was published on March 11, has already reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list and has sold about 275,000 copies.