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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Women, while joining workforce, should go for the top: Sheryl Sandberg

🔴 Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Meta, spoke to Anant Goenka, Executive Director, Indian Express Group, about how women can break the glass ceiling, at the Express Awards for Women Entrepreneurs

By: ENS Economic Bureau |
Updated: January 21, 2022 8:47:27 am
Sheryl Sandberg in conversation with Anant Goenka at Express Awards for Women Entrepreneurs

The Express Awards for Women Entrepreneurs, initiated by Financial Express and FICCI-FLO, aims to award women who have not only shown the courage to take up leadership positions but have braved numerous challenges to reach the top and set examples for future entrepreneurs. The keynote interview set the tone for the awards.

It has been eight years since you wrote Lean In. If you were to write it all over again, how much of its central thesis would you change?

I wrote Lean In in 2015 as a tech exec and put a lot of my story into it. So it read too much about women like me, White women from California in tech. Now I would have put so many stories in. The good news is that my foundation, Lean In, did that. On the website, there are hundreds of stories of women from all countries, races, backgrounds, ages and industries. We started Lean In in circles. Our goal was to have a thousand women. Today we have over 58,000 circles all over the world, including those thriving in India.

The pandemic has been a setback for women at the workplace. Your own survey shows that 25 per cent of the women are now considering leaving work due to burnout.

Covid is a health crisis, an economic crisis and a gender equality crisis. Before Covid, women all over the world were working in double shifts. When working women came home, they did the majority of the housework and childcare. Then Covid happened. Now we’re at double-double shift. Which is elderly parents to take care of, illness, kids home from school, kids who have to quarantine because they get an exposure.

My foundation was the first one to survey how women were going to drop out from the workforce. Women’s workforce participation in the US is reaching low levels in decades. Women are still not getting close to their share of leadership roles. It’s 5-7 per cent of the top CEO roles in top countries like the US. This has not changed and Covid is not helping.

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I don’t think the trend is very different in India. Can you just remind all of us about the importance of insisting on diversity and having women well-represented in organisations?

We have said for a long time that we should have diversity because it’s the right thing to do. But the message I will take to businesses is it’s also the smart thing to do. Teams that are more diverse perform better. It’s not just in the company’s interest but in your individual interest to hire, promote and have a diverse management team.

All statistics tend to show that there have never been as many women in colleges in India as there are today and there are certain subjects where there are more women than men. What advice would you give these women when they step out and see a glass ceiling?

Did anyone ever ask you that you shouldn’t become a journalist because you might want kids? Of course not. You’re a man. You know how many people have asked me this question? When men enter the workforce, we tell them to go for it. When women enter the workforce, we say ‘you can’t have it all.’ Because ‘what have it all’ means is a job and a family. But most women actually have to work, take up jobs and families. So, telling women they can’t do something they are going to have to do anyway is cruel and leads to the situation we are in.

When I ask women to ‘Lean In’, they should go into the workforce striving for the top. Don’t go in holding back because you know what’s going to happen? Suppose you are competing with some guy. Fast forward to 10 years when you have a family, you are working for him, he is higher paid, he is making the decisions. If he is working for you instead, you can afford childcare and stay in the workforce; you just give yourself options. So, to every young woman out there, “you can have it all.” Go for it and then give yourself more flexibility.

The kind of public scrutiny that Meta is going through is unprecedented, all over the world. The controversies around Facebook’s role of misinformation, hate speech, hostility to women and marginalised do you see all this scrutiny playing out and do you think your position and your personal credibility as this rare woman leader in big tech, does that help Meta emerge stronger from all this public scrutiny?

I don’t know if my personal credibility helps. But I will tell you what I do know, is that we have a responsibility to get things right. Mark has a responsibility, I have a responsibility and I sit here today knowing how much we have invested to make sure that good happens on our platform and not the bad. If you go back 5 years ago, I will say there were lot of things that really caught us up by surprise. You know, Cambridge Analytica, Russian interference in the election, hate speech on the platform, we were not prepared the way we should have been but that’s 5 years old. I say it here today, we are the leaders, we invest the most, we are the best in these things. Now, it’s still never perfect. There are over 3 billion people on this platform which means you can have all the good of humanity and all the bad. But our job and I show up everyday and I should be held responsible for it is to maximise that good and minimise that bad.

What we see all over the world, is people and so many people in India using Facebook to share, to connect..its never been more important to be able to make that connection when you can’t be with people in person. And small Businesses had to make a digital shift. When things shut down they had to reach their customers online. We are for all those tools for free and we are the largest platform for small businesses all over the world. Our goal and I do it everyday and I should be held in doing it everyday is to let that good happen and minimise the bad.

One question from my wife’s book club was about privilege. She said, “I can ‘Lean In’ and go to the workplace because I have the privilege of being able to hire some other woman who doesn’t have that privilege to take care of my child.” How would you respond to that?

A lot of women hold back and they wind up working the same hours for less pay, less responsibility, less impact and less flexibility. I ask aspirants, do you want to be CEO? All of them will say yes, most women will say no. As a CEO, I have probably more flexibility than I had when I was a junior. As you get more senior, you get paid more, have more control, and can create more impact. So the idea you don’t want to go for it in order to have flexibility is a wrong idea.

Is there a glass-ceiling that Silicon Valley has which is tough to break?

There is a glass-ceiling but the thing that my foundation, Lean In, is really focussed on is even before we get to that glass ceiling, there is a broken wrong and it is that first promotion to manager. Men are promoted and hired based on their potential, women have to prove it. Women fall out during the first promotion to manager. Why? Because you cannot prove to your manager until you do it.

One thing you have learnt from women in India.

I have heard so many stories, I will just share one. There is a network leader with Lean In in Bengaluru who, during Covid, started an initiative to bring women back to the workforce by reaching out to their husbands and family members. Almost all the women who left the workplace in her circle are now back in.  That is inspiring.

Full interview on

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