Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is awesome. Too many reasons to mention, but a good thumbnail will be this 9 minute interview with McKinsey here. Yes, is not your typical person – her CV looks like the gold standard – Harvard, Harvard Business, McKinsey, chief of staff to the Treasury secretary, Google, then COO of Facebook. Not shabby. More importantly, she talks about women’s equality – which involves men & women, society’s biases and individual self-confidence.

Consultantsmind -Sheryl Sandberg

Gender Equality. This is not a topic I write about much because I don’t know much about it AND I am a bit of a libertarian who frankly thinks that most people in America’s work places have little reason to complain. Yes, I know that is not politically correct:

  • Gender equality is much better in the US than in most places around the world. In Asian corporate cultures, it’s common for women to be socially expected to quit after getting married or having children. FMLA is a non-existent concept in much of Asia. Major glass ceilings. Low glass ceiling.
  • Women in developing economies suffer from straight sexism and violence. You don’t have to work at the UN or World Bank to know that women do the majority of work in poor countries (farming, child care, water, healthcare) and often have no human rights – protection from the law, personal security, or land rights. Bad deal.
  • My heart and mind go out to those uneducated, single moms, struggling to make monthly rent payments. . . not the consultants, bankers, and managers in corporate America who just happen to be women. Yes, it’s an ugly thing to say, but people in the US corporate workplace have it better than 95% of the world.

Yes, I will probably get hate-mail from that, but here is where I turn it around. .

Gender inequality definitely exists in the US workplace. I read an email that was written to a successful woman manager who I know.  It was about her bossy behavior, and honestly, this is EXACTLY the kind of biased bull#$^t that Sheryl Sandberg fights .

1. Social bias against strong women. Both men and women discourage women to lead, take charge, be aggressive, and win. Too often, it is a double standard where women who are action-oriented are called BOSSY or BITCHY.

As men get more successful, they are liked more. As women get more successful, they are liked less. That is a really powerful negative incentive for women to lead. 

2. Women get paid less for the same work. Results show that women only get 77% of what men get for the same work. Sounds like explicit and/or implicit discrimination.

3. Few women in leadership roles. Sandberg notes that only 14% of top corporate jobs are held by women. Also, when women reached 20% of the US congress, the news media claimed that “women were taking over”. Clearly, 20% if not taking over.

4. Work women do is under-valued. This is a deep point. . . which I interpret to mean that we (men and women) need to re-set our mind to what is valuable in life. It cannot be a dichotomy where work life (what you get paid by the market to do) is more valuable than raising children, or any other life choice. . .

One of the most important things women can do working together is to make it clear that every bit of work a woman does—whether it’s in the home, in the school, in the community, or in the workplace—is valued as much as work that men do. Across the board, we are not there. 

5. Women are encouraged to “give up”.  Sandberg comments that corporate life is often compared to a marathon. A marathon where men are encouraged to keep up the pace and keep pushing for the finish line. In contrast, women are often told that the SHOULD be taking care of the kids, or compare themselves to stay-at-home mothers.

No one can have it all. That language is the worst thing that’s happened to the women’s movement. You know, no one even bothers to apply it to men. It’s really pressure on women. I think what happens to women is we compare ourselves at home to the women who are work-at-home mothers and we fall short. Compared to them, I fall short every day. 

6. We should be creative about “work-life balance.  Be willing to mold the work environment to get everything you want to get out of life. Find supporting mentors and people to do projects with. Don’t try to assault the mountain by yourself. Team.

And I’m not saying I don’t make sacrifices. You know, there has never been a 24-hour period in five years when I have not responded to e-mail at Facebook. I am not saying it’s easy. I work long hours. I am saying that I was able to mold those hours around the needs of my family, and that matters. And I really encourage other people at Facebook to mold hours around themselves.

Yes, there are systemic, implied, subtle, and unfair biases we put against women succeeding in the workplace. Perhaps it is not as simple as a libertarian view where everyone is given a chance to succeed, and it is a question of grabbing it. Perhaps it does require pro-active mentoring, behavior-modification, and smart people to adjust the landscape for a more equitable place.

We should just start with management consulting. We should expect more from ourselves and our peers. We are a privileged class of people – educated, traveled, self-confident, well-paid, and intellectually curious. Let’s push the meritocracy to the limit.

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