CRYING AT WORK: YES, SHE’S DONE IT BUT NOT EXACTLY ON ZUCKERBERG’S SHOULDER
I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that ‘Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder’, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs. I try to be myself – honest about my strengths and weaknesses – and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.
I recently started speaking up about the challenges women face in the workforce, something I only had the courage to do in the last few years. Before this, I did my career like everyone else does it. I never told anyone I was a girl. Don’t tell. I left the lights on when I went home to do something for my kids . I locked my office door and pumped milk for my babies while I was on conference calls. People would ask, “what’s that sound?” I would say, “What sound?” “I hear a beep.” “Oh, there’s a fire truck outside my office.”
But the lack of progress over the past decade has convinced me we need to start talking about this. I graduated from HBS in 1995 and I thought it was completely clear that by the time someone from my year was invited to speak at this podium, we would have achieved equality in the workforce. But women at the top — C-level jobs — are stuck at 15-16 percent and have not moved in a decade. Not even close to 50% and no longer growing. We need to acknowledge openly that gender remains an issue at the highest levels of leadership. The promise of equality is not equality. We need to start talking about this.
‘AS A WOMAN IS MORE SUCCESSFUL IN YOUR WORKPLACES, SHE WILL BE LESS LIKED’
We need to start talking about how women underestimate their abilities compared to men and how for women, but not men, success and likeability are negatively correlated. That means that as a woman is more successful in your workplaces, she will be less liked. This means that women need a different form of management and mentorship, a different form of sponsorship and encouragement than men.
There aren’t enough senior women out there to do it, so it falls upon the men who are graduating today just as much or more as the women, not just to talk about gender but to help these women succeed. When they hear a woman is really great at her job but not liked, take a deep breath and ask why.
We need to start talking openly about the flexibility all of us need to have both a job and a life. A couple of weeks ago in an interview I said that I leave the office at 5:30 p.m. to have dinner with my children. I was shocked at the press coverage. One of my friends said I couldn’t get more headlines if I had murdered someone with an ax. This showed me this is an unresolved issue for all of us, men and women alike. Otherwise, everyone would not write so much about it.
‘WE NEED MORE WOMEN NOT JUST TO SIT AT THE TABLE, BUT TO TAKE THEIR RIGHTFUL SEATS’
And maybe, most importantly, we need to start talking about how fewer women than men, even from places like HBS, even likely in this class, aspire to the very top jobs. We will not close the leadership gap until we close the professional ambition gap. We need more women not just to sit at the table, but as President Obama said a few weeks ago at Barnard, to take their rightful seats at the head of the table.
One of the reasons I was so excited to be here today is that this is the 50th anniversary of letting women into this school. Dean Noria, who is so passionate about getting more women into leadership positions, told me that he wanted me to speak this year for that reason.
I met a woman from that first class once. She told me that when they first came in, they took a men’s room and converted it to a woman’s room. But they left the urinals in. She thought the message was clear – ‘we are not sure this whole woman thing is going to work out and if not, we don’t want to have to reinstall the urinals.’ The urinals are long gone. Let’s make sure that no one ever misses them.
FOUR THINGS SANDBERG WISHES FOR HARVARD’S GRADUATING CLASS OF 2012
As you and your classmates spread out across the globe and walk across this stage tomorrow, I wish for you four things:
First, keep in touch via Facebook. This is critical to your future success! And since we’re public now, why you are there, click on an ad or two.
Two, that you make the effort to speak as well as seek the truth.
Three, that you remain true to and open about your authentic self.
And four, that your generation accomplishes what mine has failed to do. Give us a world where half our homes are run by men and half our institutions are run by women. I’m pretty sure that would be a better world.
I join everyone here in offering my most sincere congratulations to the HBS Class of 2012. Give yourselves a huge round of applause.