Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sheryl Sandberg just might be my Eloquent Woman of the Year

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, just might be my Eloquent Woman of the Year. There's no such prize, mind you, but this speech (watch the video at the end of this post) may have changed my mind about that.

Sandberg, one of the few women to reach the top of the high-tech world, is speaking at TED about why we have too few women leaders.  It's timely, coming on the heels of a report that there are no women leading Web 2.0 companies, and Sandberg herself is not the CEO of Facebook, so she knows this topic all too well.  She's widely regarded as capable and savvy, and her three-point message here works:  take a seat at the table, make your partner an equal partner, and don't leave before you leave.

What makes me think of her as "eloquent woman of the year" is that she takes all that and injects into her speech plainspoken reality. She even turns the lens on her own behavior, to illustrate in real-time terms the uphill battles--seemingly minute, but powerful--that women face in the workplace today.  The result is credible, gripping, disappointing and ultimately invigorating listening for the audience, which is exactly what happens when women use the power of public speaking to shed light on their own issues.  Here's just one powerful anecdote, and of course, it involved a speech:

I'm about to tell a story, which is truly embarrassing for me, but I think important. I gave this talk at Facebook not so long ago to about a hundred employees. And a couple hours later, there was a young woman who works there sitting outside my little desk, and she wanted to talk to me. I said, okay, and she sat down, and we talked. And she said, "I learned something today. I learned that I need to keep my hand up." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Well, you're giving this talk, and you said you were going to take two more questions. And I had my hand up with lots of other people, and you took two more questions. And I put my hand down, and I noticed all the women put their hand down, and then you took more questions, only from the men." And I thought to myself, wow, if it's me -- who cares about this, obviously -- giving this talk -- during this talk, I can't even notice that the men's hands are still raised, and the women's hands are still raised, how good are we as managers of our companies and our organizations at seeing that the men are reaching for opportunities more than women? We've got to get women to sit at the table.
And that's just point number one.  Sandberg also tells memorable stories about pitching deals in firms where there were no women and the male executives didn't know how to direct her to the restroom, just so you know this stuff happens to her, too.

Watch this speech and think about how you can contribute in a better way to helping women advance in your workplace, be it paid or volunteer, or when you are a speaker.  What do you think about this powerful talk?

Clip to Evernote

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1 comment:

Miriam Gordon said...

Denise, thank you so much for bringing this clear, brave and honest talk to our attention.

One question I had while listening to Sheryl's talk was whether the percentage of women in top positions in European countries was higher than in the US. It followed from my knowledge that women in European countries generally get a much more generous time allowance for maternity leave, often with pay and with a guarantee that their job will be there when they get back.

The other thing that's gone through my mind many times as I thought about this topic is something I learned from being a religious Jew. The traditional, proscribed laws governing the respective roles of men and women in Judaism are very different. At first glance, things like women not being counted in a minyan (a gathering of 10 or more men for prayer), and being seated separately in synagogue seem to discriminate against women. However, I've come to understand these practices as recognizing basic differences in male and female personalities, which in theory should be understood as different, rather than one being superior to the other. However, theory is not practice, and one generalization I will make, based on my experiences with men in competitive situations, is that in general, men are more aggressive by nature than women. I think this is so deeply rooted in both nature and nurture over thousands of years that we may never see women equally represented in the "highest" power positions. I wonder if accepting this is really such a bad thing, or whether a learned appreciation of the differences between men and women can help raise the value of women's contributions in our society.