Facebook’s Sandberg calls on women to be aggressive leaders

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2013 - 10:09 AM

“Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg tells tech gathering the stakes are high.


« every-where in the world we expect women to speak when spoken to, to not be as strong … » Sheryl Sandberg, signing her book in Minneapolis


Sheryl Sandberg likes to ask a question when she speaks publicly, and she uses it to illustrate the gender bias she believes is laced through career and life in America and the world.

“For the men who are here, please raise your hand if you’ve been told you’re too aggressive at work,” she told a crowd of mostly technology-industry women in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Very few men ever raise their hands on that question, said Sandberg, the Facebook executive who sparked a nationwide discussion of gender and careers with the March release of her bestselling book “Lean In.”

But when she asked how many women had been accused of excessive aggression, hundreds of hands shot up.

“That’s true all over the world,” Sandberg said. “Everywhere in the world, we expect men to be leaders, to make decisions. Everywhere in the world, we expect women to speak when spoken to, to not be as strong, to give to others.”

Sandberg was in downtown Minneapolis for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which has attracted 4,600 people from around the country and runs through Saturday.

A who’s who of tech world

Representatives from such companies as Google, Amazon and Microsoft are attending, and the conference has a who’s who of corporate sponsors. Attendees include 1,600 college students, nearly all of them women looking to network and propel their careers in technology.

Held in a different city each year, the event was founded in 1994 and named after early computer scientist and Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, who among other things helped lay the groundwork for COBOL, a programming language still in use today.

But Sandberg said the progress of women in business, and particularly in technology, has flatlined. Men are more often rewarded for showing initiative, she said, women more often subtly punished.

Both are guilty of harboring this bias, and the problem is powerfully self-perpetuating, said the author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” who has since launched a campaign encouraging women to be more ambitious and assertive.

Men run 95 percent of the big companies in the world, Sandberg said, and men hold three-quarters of the jobs in computing and information technology.

Meanwhile, women too often hold back. They underestimate themselves, she said, don’t ask for promotions as readily, don’t push for raises and, in technology, there is simply not enough female participation.

“I don’t think that’s OK,” Sandberg said. “I think we can and will do better when we use the full talents of our population in every industry, in the technical industries that are so critical to our future.”

High-tech has high stakes

Sandberg sat for a keynote conversation with conference co-founder Telle Whitney and Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in California.

While the number of jobs that require high-tech skills has grown dramatically over the past few decades, the share of women preparing for those jobs has plummeted. Thirty-seven percent of computing degrees went to women in 1985, compared with 18 percent in 2009, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

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