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April 3, 2013

At Stanford lecture, Sandberg urges women to seek leadership roles

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, delivering the Jing Lyman Lecture at Stanford, encourages women to "raise your hand, sit at the table, own your success."

By Brooke Donald

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke at Stanford to promote her effort to have women and men "lean in" and join together in circles of support around leadership and gender issues. (Photo: Paige K. Parsons)

Sheryl Sandberg has traveled the country with an aim-high message for women, and on Tuesday paused at Stanford, where she spoke to a capacity crowd about empowerment, leadership and family.

Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, is promoting her new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, and the organization that sprung from it.

"The blunt truth is that men still run the world," Sandberg said before ticking off statistics about the poor representation of women in government and business across the globe. "What this means is that when the decisions are made that most impact our world … our voices are not equally heard."

Sandberg's lecture was sponsored by Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, the education partner for LeanIn.org.

The Clayman Institute has produced a series of videos for Lean In and provided educational materials that translate the center's research into practical lessons for women and men in areas of negotiation, storytelling and other topics. The videos and other materials are available for free on the center's and Lean In's websites.

Sandberg lauded the Clayman Institute and its director, Shelley Correll, who introduced Sandberg on Tuesday and is featured in one of the videos, talking about gender stereotypes.

"They believe in gender equality," Sandberg said of Clayman researchers. "They understand how you take academic research and make it apply. And they will stop at nothing to change this world."

During her lecture, Sandberg was conversational, balancing stories about her own self-doubt and missteps she's made in trying to create a more equal workplace with anecdotes of encouragement and empowerment.

Sandberg talked about how she believes women hold themselves back – making career decisions based on the children they don't yet have, for example – and offered advice on advancing in the workplace.

"I'm a pragmatist. I think, as a woman, you have to be more careful. You have to be more communal, you have to say yes to more things than men, you have to worry about things that men don't have to worry about," she said. "But once we get enough women into leadership, we can break stereotypes down. If you lead, you get to decide."

Ideally, she said, managers, professors and companies would be the great equalizer, promoting and encouraging women knowing that the research shows, in meetings and classrooms, "more men than women will sit in the front of the room, more men than women will sit at the table."

"We can't leave this just to managers. We can't count on anyone else solving that problem," she said. "But the person who is most likely to correct this for you is you. It is your seat at the table; take it."

She said she believes in public policy, helpful laws and institutional reform to make a more equal workplace, but "I also believe that it is not enough."

"My message is," she said, "raise your hand, sit at the table, own your success."

Studies show, she said, that starting in junior high, more boys than girls want to lead.

"It is that leadership ambition gap that we need to understand and close," she said. "We will not close the leadership gap until we have more girls wanting to lead."

Sandberg also singled out partners and spouses of women, specifically men. She said women need to be more encouraging of men and fathers.

"Just like we don't encourage leadership in women, we don't encourage nurturing in men," she said. "We still call the class 'Mommy and Me.' This is not welcoming."

The atmosphere at Cemex Auditorium was closer to a town hall meeting than a university lecture, with Sandberg cruising the stage as she illustrated her message with facts, figures and personal tales.

Just as she urged people to be active in pursuing leadership positions at work, she also implored them to engage with her there. She took questions from the audience and lobbed questions at the crowd.

"I want to ask if you've ever said out loud the following sentence, 'I want to be No. 1 in my field,'" Sandberg said. "Stand up if you have ever said that out loud to somebody else. Stand up."

Sandberg's book has shot up to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, and the Lean In tour has had her crisscrossing the country for weeks – a journey not without criticism.

Correll said it's not uncommon for controversy to follow these issues.

"As those of us who study gender can attest," Correll said as she introduced Sandberg, "debates over women, work and family often take on a controversial tone. It takes courage to walk willingly into these debates."

Correll praised Sandberg for rekindling a national conversation on women and the workplace and compared her to Jing Lyman, an advocate for women's rights at Stanford and the person in whose honor Sandberg's lecture was delivered.

"Like Jing," Correll said, "Sheryl has boldly leveraged her status to advance gender equality."

The program included discussion about Lean In "circles," which women and men are encouraged to start as groups where participants can learn leadership skills, swap stories, gain confidence and garner support.

Clayman is hosting a workshop for people interested in becoming circle leaders in May.

"We believe," Sandberg said, "that if we bring men and women together to form a community around gender issues and equality and leadership for women and nurturing for men, if we provide education, skills and tools, and if we can give people in-person and online support through a circle of people that can be their peer mentors, we can change things. One by one by one."

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Contact

Lily Bixler Clausen, Clayman Institute for Gender Research: lbixler@stanford.edu

Brooke Donald, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224, brooke.donald@stanford.edu

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