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Facebook Exec: Women Are Their Own Worst Enemy

22 March 2013 in Trading Ideas

Is it possible it has been left to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to give the professional gender gap its next nudge?

Sandberg, a former World Bank economist and executive at Google, has been lighting up book-review circles – and op-ed pages – following the release earlier this month of her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” a modern-day manifesto that hopes to function as both a rallying cry and an acknowledgment that, after all these years, women are still battling workplace politics.

In Sandberg’s view, it’s time to admit “our revolution has stalled.” Aside from her own career anecdotes, Sandberg cites the statistics and hard, cold facts: For example, mothers who stay at home for a year because of a child see an average 20% drop in their salaries. Or the reality that professional women spent twice as much time as their partners doing housework at home, and three times as much time taking care of children.1

(For more about women in the workplace, check out our recent infographic. And for an investment alternative that focuses on the topic, consider our No Glass Ceilings motif, a portfolio of stocks of companies with female CEOs. It’s up 14.2% in 2013 and has risen 21.3% in the past 12 months).

But while she acknowledges disparity, Sandberg is making waves by holding women partly responsible for their own plight. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” she writes. By internalizing messages dating back to childhood that it’s wrong for women to be aggressive, outspoken and more powerful than men, “we lower our expectations of what we can achieve.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, critics see Sandberg’s arguments as elitist and potentially guilt-inducing for the millions of working women seeking a balance between their professional and personal lives.

And, considering that Sandberg’s bootstrap call comes just weeks after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s somewhat infamous cessation of working-from-home opportunities, a professional woman could legitimately wonder about the benefit of having “friends” in high places.

1Britta Sandberg, “Storming the Corridors of Power: A Manifesto For Working Women,” Spiegel Online International, March 7, 2013, “http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/sheryl-sandberg-encourages-women-to-storm-the-executive-floors-a-887006.html,” (accessed March 19, 2013).

Photo courtesy of Yonhap News.