Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg delivers monumental speech for women in tech

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To all of my female readers: I strongly encourage you to take an hour out of your day to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s recent keynote speech at the 2011 Grace Hopper conference. I watched it three days ago and I am still motivated and inspired by her message. Sandberg’s background is overwhelmingly impressive, with credentials as a Harvard MBA, McKinsey consultant, World Bank analyst, Chief of Staff for the Treasury Department under Clinton, GM at Google, and now COO at Facebook. Regardless if you are passionate about media or technology, you will want to hear what Sandberg has to offer!

Per Anita Borg Institute’s press release:

“She offered five suggestions for women interested in advancing their careers, saying they should:

1. believe in themselves, see their successes clearly and don’t underestimate their achievements – no one ever achieved what they did not set out to do
2. dream big, be ambitious – success is positively correlated with men, while the opposite is true with women; but with more women in power, this will change
3. choose a supportive partner – this is the single most important decision a woman can make for her career, because women typically assume the additional responsibilities of raising a family
4. avoid making career decisions too early – trying to plan life too carefully can close doors rather than keep them open
5. start talking – it’s important to acknowledge the challenges women face and communicate them openly, or change will never happen”

What do you think of this advice? Any you might change?

If you don’t have a free hour in the near future, watch her condensed 15-minute TED talk. There is some overlap, but she also tells some new stories which was nice for viewers like me who wanted to watch both. Specifically, she mentioned the story about Heidi Roizen, which resonated with me because I read her case last year in my Leading and Managing class. It goes like this:

Heidi is extremely successful at networking and leveraging her strengths, which she does to become a successful venture capitalist. Readers often found Heidi to be overly bold, arrogant and not someone they would want to work with/for. However, when the case writer changed the name “Heidi” to “Howard” readers spoke fondly of Howard and how driven and likeable he was. As Sandberg notes in her talks, success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Why is this? Jealousy? What can we do to stop this detrimental mindset?


  • Katie

    I saw the TED talk of this before you linked me to this video; a lot of it is repeated from her other talk, but some of the numbers make the situation even more shocking. If you think about the Computer Science department at UNC, I am a minority. In my COMP 590 class on Discrete Structures, there are five girls in an approximately 40 person class. The ratio of female professors is better than female students in the department, according to one of our lead faculty. It actually came up in class one day after the Undergraduate Open House for the department, and my professor said that the ratio was especially problematic at UNC and asked the class why they thought that was. There were various answers, and he seemed genuinely concerned. And then a few minutes later, there was a joke about females. I don’t remember what the joke was, but everyone laughed, even myself. It’s minor, but it’s implied. It’s a man’s field. 
    One of the things that really struck me in Sandberg’s talk was actually how she spoke in the very beginning about how she thought that it was user error rather than something being wrong with the functioning of the computer. Yes, computers only do what you tell them to, but I’ve noticed that lack of self efficacy pretty uniformly throughout my interactions with other girls exposed to technology. We often blame ourselves, not the machine. We don’t consider it surprising if we don’t understand how to work something. I think a lot of it comes from how we’ve been taught. It’s a joke that guys don’t stop to ask for directions, but why do women have to? What’s so terrible about figuring things out on our own? Sometimes it’s inefficient. Sometimes it takes longer. My professor calls doing the very basic induction proofs in Discrete Structures as things that “build character”. Struggling is how we grow. There are times to ask for help, and there are times it’s worse not to ask for help. But it’s also detrimental to ourselves to not try to understand what’s going on and how to fix it. Fixing the gap between women and men in technology isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a struggle. We need to build character and build confidence. Just as we were taught in elementary school, the only way to do that is practice. 

    • http://www.tracyboyerclark.com Tracy Boyer Clark

      Excellent insights, Katie! It’s a delicate issue because I don’t want this conversation to turn into a gender inequality fight and/or feminism movement. The last thing I want to hear is people speculating if Virginia Rometty got the IBM CEO position simply because she is a woman. Grounding this discussion in fact is a must to avoid opinions and speculations. A good follow-up book that Sandberg mentioned in her speech is “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof. It is a MUST READ.

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