What Kind of Power Do Women Want?

Clip_24Do women want that kind of power?

Are men hardwired to want the big paycheck, the high-horsepower career more?

How much of women’s tendency to lean back stems from something deep in the DNA?

Research findings suggest that women are as ambitious as men but that their ambition expresses itself in a different way. Just as it’s unclear whether humans are genetically predisposed to eat too much or do so because of the food around them. Either way, it’s causing obesity and needs to change. We have to evolve to meet new circumstances. Ideally, one needs to see where boys and girls end up if they get equal encouragement—we might have some differences in how leadership is done.

Women lower on the scale of money and education may wonder just how Sandberg of Facebook expects them to lean in to their paycheck jobs. And for her to suggest that other women aren’t doing the right things to be successful, it’s what many people are calling ballsy, as in that’s what a guy would say. Her thesis has already drawn the ire of other women working in the same field.

Data from McKinsey says that businesses with more women on their boards are more profitable. Companies need women. It’s a problem for them if women aren’t advancing. Some think Sandberg’s message is the wrong one. “It’s insulting to women to say they need to become more like men to succeed.”

Sandberg in her first book, a memoir–slash–”sort of feminist manifesto” enjoins women to pursue their careers with more rigor, to engage more energetically in the corporate cook-off, to Lean In—as the book is titled—to the opportunities and challenges of becoming a boss. She says she had misgivings about sharing these family fables because they make her seem bossy, a term she takes issue with. “I notice bossy is applied almost always to little girls,” says Sandberg over lunch. “It’s just not used for men.”

Midflight Stall

Why, almost exactly 44 years after Lorena Weeks became the first woman to use the Civil Rights Act to win the right to be promoted, at Southern Bell, are we still arguing about women and success?

Only flat-earthers and small boys don’t believe that women can lead huge Western democracies, head companies, play exciting sports, rise to the rank of four-star general, change the world, trade cattle futures and be funny.

To be fair, that’s not exactly what Sandberg is saying.

She’s an ardent listmaker and is never without a little notebook. Each page is either a project or a person, and she rips them out when the tasks are done. “I feel my to-do list,” she says.

Combined with her efficiency is her emotional quotient (EQ), an uncanny grasp of how people feel.

In a meeting to discuss the purchase of a Web-design company—a process known as acqui-hiring, in which the deal is mainly aimed at bringing in new talent—Sandberg reminds her team that the firm’s founder is about to have a birthday and wants to get the deal done before the big day. “I think that birthday helps us,” she says. As Zuckerberg puts it, “She’s unique in that she has an extremely high IQ and EQ, and it’s just really rare to get that in any single person.”

Sandberg doesn’t like to call what she does management. It seems too clinical. She has the gift of making others feel their contribution is significant.

She believes in crying in the office and devotes a chapter in her book to honest communication at work. “We argue pretty vehemently,” says Cox. “One thing I appreciate about Sheryl—when it’s about to get heated, we’ll call each other. We don’t raise our voices. We have a different tone.”

Meetings are the vertebrae of any executive’s day, and Sandberg runs a brisk one. In the pre-Sandberg era, they didn’t always start on time. And there weren’t always notes. Sheryl’s able to get a diverse set of people to get to a decisive position very quickly. She’s famously impatient.” She’s also practical, making sure people aren’t meeting on an empty stomach.

The Sandberg Way

After running thousands of meetings and hiring, directly or indirectly, thousands of people, Sandberg feels she’s in a position to comment about the way women work. And here’s what she’s noticed: it’s not their fault exactly, but they aren’t pursuing their careers in the most efficient way.

Inefficiency is abhorrent to Sandberg. She has a sign in her conference room that reads, “Ruthlessly Prioritize”.

Of course, we can’t all be Sheryl Sandberg. In fact, none of us can be Sheryl Sandberg. To understand why, it helps to know how she got to be who she is.

“I was raised [to believe] that going into business was a bad thing,” says the oldest daughter of Joel and Adele Sandberg, an ophthalmologist and teacher from Florida. “You were supposed to be a doctor or work for the government or a nonprofit.” (Both her siblings went into medicine.) Sandberg thought she was going to be a lawyer. In sixth grade she took second place in a Florida-wide oratory contest, even though all the other speakers were in high school. That she couldn’t see over the lectern without a step stool didn’t diminish the impact of her speech about the folktale of the little red hen and the importance of everyone’s doing their bit for America.

Sandberg often refers to a 2003 experiment that found that students considered a successful entrepreneur in a case study more likable when her name was changed to a man’s.

“The data says clearly, clearly, clearly that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women,” says Sandberg. Finding that out “was the aha moment of my life.” It explains, she believes, why women who will negotiate ruthless deals for their clients will not do the same for themselves. It accounts for why women are less eager than men to trumpet their management triumphs or put themselves forward for leadership positions. Because women are supposed to be nurturing and peacemaking, not aggressive. When she clues in managers on the success-and-likability conundrum, “it completely changes the way they review women,” she says.

Awkwardly, it turns out, women don’t particularly like successful women either. Sandberg points to how quickly people criticized her friend Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, who went back to work two weeks after having a child and recently appeared to make Yahoo’s work practices a lot less flexible. “No one knows what happened there,” she says. “I think flexibility is important for women and for men. But there are some jobs that are superflexible and some that aren’t.” Regardless, she believes no man who ordered the same policies would have come under fire the way Mayer has.

Every group of people that has been systematically told they were supposed to play a limited role internalizes that role,” says Gloria Steinem. “She’s saying we have to both fight against the barriers and get them out of our consciousness.”

Sandberg’s peers are generally supportive but guarded.

“The most crucial thing for a woman to have if she’s going to get to the top is a sponsor,” says Ann Lee, author of What the U.S. Can Learn from China and a contemporary of Sandberg’s at Harvard Business School. “I was not terribly surprised at Sheryl’s success, because I knew Larry Summers had taken her under his wing.” In fact, after a short stint at McKinsey in 1996, Sandberg went to work with Summers again, this time at the Treasury Department. When he became the Treasury Secretary, she was his 29-year-old chief of staff. “I was hugely lucky, and that explains most of my success,” says Sandberg, “just like every man.”

Her next move, to a small but energetic company called Google in 2001, took people more by surprise. She was such a Google type: smart, articulate, passionate and able to work through a problem she had never encountered before. What Rosing didn’t notice, however, was her passion for women’s rights: She was just one of the guys, one of the players. In fact, it was only after she got very sick while pregnant that she got the firm to put in special parking spots for expectant moms.

“I never called myself a feminist or gave speeches on women as late as five years ago,” says Sandberg, whose interest in women’s leadership coincided with her joining Facebook in 2008. Until the week before Lean In came out, she was the only woman on Facebook’s board and had been there less than a year, and she’s still the only woman among its top executives.

Clip_22How She Does It

Among the myths that circle around Sandberg is that she leaves the office at 5:30 p.m.

Actually, that is true. But after putting in some time with her family, she returns to work with a vengeance. She’s one of those work-hard, play-hardly-ever types. She usually goes to parties only to work the room or if she’s holding a gathering of women at her home. She and her husband Dave Goldberg try never to schedule dinners on the same night. If that does happen, she often calls on her sister. “She lives a mile away, and the answer is always yes,” Sandberg says.

In many ways her domestic life is very traditional. The family plays a lot of games; Zuckerberg recently taught them the Settlers of Catan.

Her kids already get their own breakfasts and make their own school lunches (with help). Sandberg says studies that show working moms of today are as engaged with their kids as traditional moms of yore “make me feel so good, so much better.” She declines to answer questions about her domestic help, saying it’s not a question you would ask a man, then declines my offer to ask Goldberg the same question.

Chapter 8 of Lean In claims that one of the most important career choices a woman makes is whom to marry. She and Goldberg, who’s as laid-back and genial as Sandberg is intense and energetic, dated after several years of friendship, during which time Sandberg was briefly married. Four years ago Goldberg left a big job at Yahoo so the family could be together in Northern California. He took over Survey Monkey, which at the time had 14 employees. “That was hard,” he says. “But what Sheryl has been super great about is that there may be a time when we’re going to move someplace for my career.”

The job change hasn’t held Goldberg back. SurveyMonkey now has a staff of 200 and 14 million users, and he just completed a recapitalization of the company that values it at $1.35 billion.

Sandberg doesn’t act as if she wants to leave her current job, even though it’s almost impossible for her to become CEO. “Ironically, having written a book about women and leadership, having, like, the top leadership role is not the most important thing to me,” she says. “I could have done that on the way out of Google. I had those offers.”

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