When Sheryl Sandberg was pregnant with her first child, she was a senior executive at Google. She had gained a lot of weight — 70 pounds — and suffered nausea throughout the pregnancy. Google's parking lots were vast, and she would lumber across them, until one day she decided things had to change.
"The next day, I marched in — or more like waddled in — to see Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their office, which was really just a large room with toys and gadgets strewn all over the floor," Sandberg recounts in her excellent new book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead." "I found Sergey in a yoga position in the corner and announced that we needed pregnancy parking, preferably sooner than later. He looked up at me and agreed immediately, noting that he had never thought about it before."
Sandberg, now chief operating officer of Facebook, notes that she, and other pregnant women at Google, had suffered silently until she said something. "Having one pregnant woman at the top — even one who looked like a whale — made the difference," she writes.
"Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead" is Sandberg's feminist call to arms to women. After watching women demur in meetings, suffer in silence, shrink away from grabbing promotions and drop out of the workforce when they become mothers, Sandberg had had enough. If this continues, men — who continue to lead most nations, most states, most cities, most corporations and most everything else except the home — will always run everything, she argues. That has to change if we truly want equality.
It's time, she writes, that women stop taking a back seat to men.
The answer, she writes, is for women to "lean in" to their careers. Speaking to graduates of all-women Barnard College in 2011, she said, "you will find something you love doing and you will do it with gusto. Find the right career for you and go all the way to the top."
Of course, for many women, "leaning in" is easy until children come along. Most workplaces don't make it easy to be a pregnant or working mom, and society doesn't cheer us on either.
If a career is like a marathon, Sandberg writes, "male marathoners are routinely cheered on: 'Lookin' Strong! On your way!' But the female runners hear a different message. 'You know you don't have to do this!' the crowd shouts. Or 'Good start — but you probably won't want to finish!'"
By the end of the marathon, she writes, the men are still hearing encouragement, while the women hear, "Why are you running when your children need you at home?"
Working moms know this is true. I am asked often how I do it, and who is taking care of the kids. My husband is not questioned in this way. I used to work part time and I would always make sure to say so, as if to say, oh, no worries, I am also devoted to my kids, as if working full time meant less than full devotion. My admission that I work always carried a note of apology.
These signals, along with workplaces that make it hard to run families with two working parents, cause a lot of women to ease up on careers as they have children. Some, if they can afford to, drop out altogether. A 2007 survey of Harvard Business School graduates found that only half of the women who graduated in the 1990s were working full time, she writes.
Most of the book is written to urge women to aspire to greatness, offering practical advice about how to do that. There are tips about how to negotiate your salary, ask for promotions, speak up, navigate your career and set boundaries that make it possible to have a life outside work. She also offers thoughts on how to get a partner to take on half of the housekeeping and child-rearing duties, essential ingredients to making it all work.
She points out that many behaviors women adopt in the workplace are self-defeating. In one chapter, "Sit at the Table," Sandberg describes hosting a breakfast at Facebook with Silicon Valley executives and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
"Our invited guests, mostly men, grabbed plates and food and sat down at the large conference table. Secretary Geithner's team, all women, took their food last and sat in chairs off to the side of the room. I motioned for the women to come sit at the table, waving them over so they would feel welcomed. They demurred and remained in their seats."
Take your seat, she writes. Speak up. Don't leave money on the table.
Sandberg describes negotiating her compensation after receiving an offer from Facebook. She was dying to take the job, she writes, and felt uncomfortable asking for better terms.
"I could play hardball, but then maybe Mark would not want to work with me," she writes. "But right before I was about to say yes, my exasperated brother-in-law, Marc Bodnick, blurted out, 'Damn it, Sheryl! Why are you going to make less than any man would make to do the same job?'"
She negotiated, got more money, a longer contract and was invited to buy into the company. Facebook went public. Asking for more paid off.