At Book Launch, Sheryl Sandberg Takes Center Stage

"I decided that what I was trying to say was going to help people," Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg told TIME's Nancy Gibbs

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Larry Busacca / Getty Images for Time Warner

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, left, speaks at an event moderated by Nancy Gibbs, TIME's deputy managing editor, on March 11, 2013, in New York City

In the mother of all book launches, Sheryl Sandberg — the COO of Facebook and a first-time author, though you would hardly know it — was interviewed by TIME’s deputy managing editor Nancy Gibbs at the Time Warner Center in New York City. Sandberg, the cover subject of this week’s TIME magazine, is on a mission to empower women in the workplace. “I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities,” she writes in TIME’s exclusive excerpt of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, a book that has gotten a tremendous amount prepublication attention.

(MORE: Read TIME’s cover story “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Successful“)

“Thank you for joining us around the bonfire that Sheryl has lit,” Gibbs said in front of a crowd of about 200 that included Katie Holmes, Suze Orman and Lesley Stahl, before launching into her first question for Sandberg: “What has surprised you most about these last few days?”

“I’m surprised by how much attention and how early it has been,” said Sandberg, noting that the book had only officially come out that very morning. “That hasn’t stopped anyone from having an opinion of it,” Gibbs pointed out. “What I’m concerned about is stagnation and apathy, and if a heated debate around a book is what it takes to spark a conversation, then that’s great,” replied Sandberg.

(MORE: Why Sandberg Matters for Real Women)

The conversation quickly turned to stereotypes that continue to hold women back and the Catch-22 of what Sandberg calls women’s success-likability penalty. “As women get more powerful, they get less likable,” said Sandberg. “I see women holding themselves back because of this, but if we start talking about the success-likability penalty women face, then we can do something about it.”

Sandberg returned often to the theme that women face a double standard — if they turn down an assignment, they’re seen as difficult, if they ask for a promotion, they’re seen as too aggressive. Until there’s greater awareness of this bias, however, women might have to work around the problem and do things like “negotiate sweetly” when asking for a raise or a promotion. “People think that women don’t negotiate because they’re not good negotiators, but that’s not it,” she said. “Women don’t negotiate because it doesn’t work as well for them. Women have to say, ‘I really add a lot of value, and it’s in your interest to pay me more.’ I hate that advice, but I want to see women get ahead.”

(MORE: Caitlin Flanagan: What About the Children?)

When it came time for questions, Pattie Sellers, senior editor at large and executive director of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, pointed out that, in fact, women have been getting ahead. “We have 21 female Fortune 500 CEOs today, vs. just one in 1998,” she said. “It’s important to have role models like you.”

Stahl, a 60 Minutes correspondent, raised the eternal question of nature vs. nurture. “I keep having this gnawing feeling that a lot of this is hardwired. Aren’t you just fighting the way men and women are?” she asked. Sandberg would have none of it. “I don’t pretend there aren’t biological differences, but I don’t believe the desire for leadership is hardwired biology, not the desire to win or excel,” she said. “I believe that it’s socialization, that we’re socializing our daughters to nurture and our boys to lead. We call our daughters bossy and we never call our sons bossy. A friend of mine says that she now stops herself from saying her daughter is bossy and instead says, My daughter has executive leadership skills.”

Gayle King hinted that not all the publicity has been positive. “It saddens me that we as women are at each other’s throats about this book,” she said. “I think you’re opening up the conversation, but I’m wondering how you’re feeling about the criticism from other women.” Sandberg took it all in stride. “This is really personal stuff,” Sandberg said. “But I want this debate to happen, and I want it to happen with men too.”

One issue Sandberg raised is that it’s hard for older men to bring along younger female colleagues without appearing to possibly be having an inappropriate relationship (and that young women in turn make a big mistake by asking senior women who they don’t know, Will you be my mentor?). “This is the elephant in the room, so I’m really hoping men will read the book too.” As she’d said earlier in the evening, “I decided that what I was trying to say was going to help people. So here we are.” Just don’t ask her to be your mentor.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Sheryl Sandberg


Living fully and I mean, into your 50's is when the real test of time, proves the "Lean In" approach.  I agree with Ms. Sandberg that more talented, creative and capable women need to bring themselves into the leadership circle, but, you, business and the family do "pay".  We all pay either way.  I witnessed men from the playground to the boardroom, assuming leadership be default, just by showing-up.  When I finally raised my hand and "leaned-in" throughout my 40's, the price I paid was in my marriage, my children's lives, my health and all for the profits of the corporations I worked for and with which do not keep me warm at night.  The real balance is for both men and women to support each other in leadership and the values to home, community and the world.  Let's "lean on" each other in partnership for the greater good of all.


If I had the time I could write my own book in response.  I just finished reading this week's Time article. I admit, I have not read the book yet.  I am most interested in the chapter where Ms. Sandberg discusses how she personally handles being a working mother. Can someone tell me what chapter that is in?  Ms. Sandberg notes that, when asked about domestic help, she does not answer because "No one would ask a man that"  With that comment, she sums up this age old conflict and why it will continue no matter how smart or successful women become.  I take full credit for what I am about to say because it is something I have concluded based on my own life experience:  The difference between a man and a woman when it comes to parenting is....women confront the idea of having children and ask, "How am I going to do this?" while men think of becoming parents and think, "Who is going to do this for me?"  


What Ms. Sandberg is saying is that we as a nation should encourage women who want to become leaders, executives, etc.  Yes, there are women who perhaps do not want these leadership roles and climb the corporate ladder.  That's fine, but for those women who want these roles, she is telling men and women to support them instead of discouraging them.  This is the pathway these women want for themselves.  Ms Sandberg is not just focusing on married or single parents.


Question: When did finding a work/life balance become a privilege reserved for moms/parents? Why does the "lean in" conversation exclude singles and childless families? What about caring for aging parents? An unexpected illness? Choosing to live a healthy lifestyle and prioritizing the gym?

No one has more than 24 hours in a day and we are all bound by the same constraints: maintaining our homes, shopping for food, cooking, laundry,  etc. and working around services that may or may not conform to our business hours (tailors, cleaners, doctors, etc.) Single people do this all on one income and without the luxury of dividing the workload with a partner. It has been my observation (and experience) that unless you have children, you better have a pretty good explanation for leaving work daily at a "regular" hour.

Any dialogue about "leaning in" needs to be expanded and more inclusive. The last thing women need is more divisiveness or Mommy Wars 2.0 -- and I'm pretty certain that wasn't Sandberg's intent, but why are such a large segment of single and/or childless couples being left out? Becoming a parent is a choice. But so is not becoming a parent -- and neither should be judged or endure negative consequences in the workplace for following Sheryl Sandberg out the door at 5:30. I've yet to see this brought up in any interview on the subject.