Confidence Woman

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is on a mission to change the balance of power. Why she just might pull it off

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Peter Bohler for TIME

Strategy meeting Sandberg with team members

Sheryl Sandberg’s first employees, according to her family, were her siblings David and Michelle. “Initially, as a 1-year-old and 3-year-old, we were worthless and weak,” they said in a toast at her wedding. But by elementary school the person who is currently the chief operating officer of Facebook, and arguably one of the most powerful women in America, had whipped them into shape, teaching them to follow her around the house and shout “Right!” after each of her orations. Was this a game? Sort of. “To the best of our knowledge Sheryl never actually played as a child,” they said. “[She] really just organized other children’s play.”

Sandberg tells these stories about herself early in her first book, a memoir–slash–”sort of feminist manifesto” in which she 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 (she ordered a Wagyu hot dog with no bun and no relish). “It’s just not used for men.”

In person, Sandberg does not give the impression that she’s bossy. She gives the impression that she was born 43, that she was delivered preloaded with the capacity and will to order people around but also the capacity and will to ensure that they thrive. Now that she is really 43, she has so perfected these skills that merely helping run a $66 billion tech company is not quite enough of a challenge. So Sandberg has taken on a new mission: to change the balance of power. That quest and her plan of attack have brought out the broadsides.

(MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Sheryl Sandberg)

It would be un-Sandbergian to write a book and just leave it at that. Her campaign comes with, a nonprofit foundation with corporate partnerships, online seminars and guidelines for establishing support groups. It’s probably not an overstatement to say Sandberg is embarking on the most ambitious mission to reboot feminism and reframe discussions of gender since the launch of Ms. magazine in 1971.


The thing is, she’s in a pretty good position to pull it off. She’s the co-pilot of the biggest network of humans the world has ever seen: Facebook’s roughly 1 billion members, most of whom are female, at least in the U.S. She’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And she has an undeniable record of knowing how to get things done. Her résumé, with its by-the-book stints at Harvard Business School, McKinsey and the Treasury Department, does not reek of revolutionary, but in the lineage of key feminist figures, she may well turn out to be pivotal. “In a sense it’s almost like Betty Friedan 50 years ago,” says author and historian Stephanie Coontz. “She’s talking to a particular audience, but they really need this message.”

(MORE: Sandberg Exclusive Excerpt: ‘Why I Want Women to Lean In’)

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 (thanks, Margaret Thatcher), head companies (thanks, Indra Nooyi), play exciting sports (thanks, Billie Jean King), rise to the rank of four-star general (thanks, Ann Dunwoody), change the world, trade cattle futures and be funny (thanks for all three, Hillary Clinton).

But women’s journey to the top is having an altitude problem. Young female executives begin on the same career staircase as men, but it’s almost as if the stairs change direction, Hogwarts-like, and take them somewhere else. For three decades, more women than men have graduated from college, but that academic dominance has not led to corresponding business or political success. There are currently only 17 heads of state out of 195 who do not have a Y chromosome. Women hold about 20% of all seats in parliaments globally. Slightly more than 4% of Fortune 500 companies are headed by women, and women hold 17% of board seats. Worse, these numbers aren’t changing very fast. Ten years ago, 14% of board seats were held by women. A decade has passed, and women have gotten a few inches farther into the boardroom. “Women are not making it to the top of any profession in the world,” says Sandberg. “But when I say the blunt truth is that men run the world, people say, ‘Really?’ That, to me, is the problem.”

Few people disagree that somewhere on the climb between the graduation podium and the C-suite, women are getting lost. The contentious issue is what—or who—is keeping them down. Fingers are pointed in every direction: the U.S. has primitive maternity-leave laws on par with those of Papua New Guinea—a country that still has actual cannibals. Women are hitting their childbearing deadlines around the time future executives are being winnowed out from regular management. Turnover at corporate boards, which are heavily male-dominated, is very slow; most have a mandatory retirement age of 72. American companies structure their workers’ days around the expectation that someone else is handling the home front. Men have welcomed women into the workplace, but housework, cooking and child-rearing duties are still borne largely by women.

(MORE: Forget About Mentors — Women Need Sponsors)

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Howard packer


Love this article, it is spot on. I don't understand the whole "easy for her to say with a supportive husband and loads of money"- how do you think she got that?? By LEANING IN! She didn't accept a substandard husband- and she didn't wimp out of career or family achievements. (If you can say 'achievements' when it comes to family). I think too often the issues that the 70's feminists highlighted  (unequal treatment of women in society) has turned into a stagnation- "poor us, what can we do, look how they treat us!". What do you do about it? You have to speak out for what is fair, not accept unequal treatment (even from yourself), recognise your own internalization of unequal standards, and not accept substandard conditions. Too often I hear women who are married, complain to their friends about their husband's lack of help around the house, or how unfair it is that they give up their working lives in sacrifice for a family. Not fair! They should be doing something about it instead of accepting this unfairness and giving up! (I say 'they', but this is what I did too!). Good on your Sheryl Sandberg, and you know, I hope you do run for office!


and furthermore -  - some men do make it 'on their own' - women need HELP  to 'make it' - either with a responsive support system being in that of a mother, father or sibling - or a very 'cooperative' spouse who does nothing without you and you without him  - to be missing any of these support systems - -  you start to  'improvise' the best way you know how to and when you finally realize that most of your family is gone or just does not give a 'hoot' or is smart enough to acknowledge and help and your husband is a self-obsessed man or self-serving geek of sorts -  - you no longer have the 'luxury' to continue to 'profit' - buy appropriate clothing - have time to go to functions and meetings and trips - leaving children in 'good hands' or spend hours and hours on 'hobbies' like gardening and book writing ~ et al et al ~ none of that happens to any WOMAN without true continuous support and inspiration and that my friends - is the way MOST of the women in today's world live!


Is it so bad fewer women are CEOs in the business world? Perhaps women simply prefer more interesting, creative jobs in science or the liberal arts.


Belinda Luscombe got it right, with the kind a detail the teacher in me lusts for. “Sandberg is embarking on the most ambitious mission to reboot feminism,” as Luscombe says. Good for her and the rest of us. The fact that Sandberg took “too long” to realize she was a feminist, as Emma Brockes of The Guardian states, is reality. I see the same hesitation to embrace feminism in my students. And it is for exactly the same reason Sandberg took her time, because they think equity already exists. Unfortunately, they are wrong. We need to give everyone who wishes, men and women - including Sandberg, the time it takes to find feminism. 

Contrary to many, I do not think Sandberg blames women or “sells guilt.” Nor does she demonize men. In this way she exemplifies what it means to be a feminist. It is true she never has (and doubtfully ever will) experienced what many women, including myself, have had to struggle through. However, that does not negate truths, including how women sabotage themselves. I see this everyday in my students. Rather, she is giving voice to a long needed debate about the unspoken problems that are crippling women in societies across the world. This does not mean every woman will seek the top. Nor does it mean, nor does she imply, that it is easy or for everyone. But it does mean more of us should find the courage to do so, because in doing so we help all women.

I teach and conduct research about the lack of women in advertising creative. On average there are a dismal 15% of women creating the advertising images that we see across the globe, which explains a lot. Further, my students, as well as those of my colleagues, are in large part women (70-80% depending upon the study). This matters greatly – and not just in advertising creative. 

We need to have this dialogue for the sake of the young women and men I teach as well as for the non-college youth I serve as a volunteer. These young people desire equitable educational and employment opportunities and have a passion to give back. Yet, when all too many of them enter the world of work, especially women, they suffocate – constrained by narrow thinking and outdated rules.

It is time to have this discussion out LOUD. Big and bold. It’s time for each of us to speak our individual truths. It’s time for each of us to listen to the individual truths of others. It’s time to make room for everyone, some leaning in and some leaning out. Thanks for keeping this big, bold dialogue going, Belinda!


In recent decades in many countries, much more women than men graduated from university, particularly in fields like literature, education and social sciences. However, like the general American situation, the academic dominance by women has not correspondingly translated into political or career success in relevant domains. In Asian regions at least, cultural expectations for women are much more prominent, persistent and decisive than the American counterpart.

According to centuries-long traditions, women are supposed to function as a ‘background heroine’, assisting their husbands or children to move forward at whatever level in whatever careers. With very few exceptions, this is a typical mindset of most Asian women, poor or rich, illiterate or professional. Under such circumstances, a typical female professional or academic has comparatively less incentive for a senior administrative position, regardless of numerous superior qualities demonstrated – smart, capable, articulate, confident, and ambitious. Any tradition may change course, but it inevitably takes time.

Lau Hieng-Hiong, Hsinchu, TAIWAN


Thumbs up to Belinda Luscombe. She did a great job with this story.


%s That he's honest, not corrupt. He's good people, basically. %s


My prediction is that within 20 years women will have reached true equality in America. There will be equal pay for equal work, half of the executive positions will be women, and half the Nobel winners will be women. 

Men have had there chance at running things and have done a pretty crummy job of it. Women should at least get an equal chance to screw it up.