During last week's Dreamforce Conference, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff held a fireside chat with COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. The two executives spoke in depth about their experiences with Sandberg's Lean In methodology, a conversation that resonated with the 3000 attendees in Downtown San Francisco's Moscone Center.
Published earlier this year, Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead became an overnight success, shifting 150,000 copies in the first week. In outlining her motivations for writing the book, Sandberg was quick to point that that even after completing an entire book to encourage women 'to sit at any table, reach for any opportunity', she herself finds the message of the book challenging. She later pointed out the relevance of a message posted on the walls of Facebook's headquarters, 'What would you do if you weren't afraid?'. For Sandberg, making a stance as a businesswoman writing a hardback book on feminism was just that.
Sandberg claimed that the type of insecurity she feels as a high-powered executive is not only reinforced in the workplace but also instilled at a young age, making the point that accusations of being 'aggressive' in the workplace have evolved from the childhood equivalent, 'bossy'.
Arguing that the very word 'bossy' needs to be reappropriated, she called upon the audience to help create balance: 'Next time you hear a little girl be called bossy, walk up to the person who did it, who might be that girl's parents, have a big smile on your face and say: Your little girl's not bossy, your little girl has executive leadership skills.'
Benioff expressed that he enjoyed the book but that he as a CEO was having difficulty carrying out some of her ideas. He told the story of how recently a female manager turned down an invitation to one of his conferences because her male manager hadn't been invited, and she felt uncomfortable going when he wasn't.
In response, Sandberg brought up the topic of mentorship and sponsorship, referencing the fact that when 64% of managers in the US feel uncomfortable being alone in a room with a woman, it should be a badge of honour to have the confidence to carry out male-female mentorship. For Sandberg, attending Lean In circles and creating opportunities for women develops into a competitive advantage, since 50% of the population will be more willing to work with you.
To Sandberg, giving women more exposure is now necessary and not so much about promotion but about levelling the playing field. In answering Benioff, Sandberg recommended that when a woman is hired, managers should bring up the topic of the child-rearing years on day one. By opening the conversation and guaranteeing that positions will be available on returning to the company, managers win an employee's loyalty for life, according to Sandberg.
It's this idea of surfacing that is most pressing for Sandberg. And she doesn't restrict outcomes to the workplace. While in the workplace this might be about outperforming competition, at home more benefits can be realised from active fathers, equal partners and by replacing flower donations with laundry runs.