Pat Mitchell: Your first time back on the TEDWomen stage.
Sheryl Sandberg: First time back. Nice to see everyone. It's always so nice to look out and see so many women. It's so not my regular experience, as I know anyone else's.
PM: So when we first started talking about, maybe the subject wouldn't be social media, which we assumed it would be, but that you had very much on your mind the missing leadership positions, particularly in the sector of technology and social media. But how did that evolve for you as a thought, and end up being the TED Talk that you gave?
SS: So I was really scared to get on this stage and talk about women, because I grew up in the business world, as I think so many of us did. You never talk about being a woman, because someone might notice that you're a woman, right? They might notice. Or worse, if you say "woman," people on the other end of the table think you're asking for special treatment, or complaining. Or worse, about to sue them. And so I went through — (Laughter) Right? I went through my entire business career, and never spoke about being a woman, never spoke about it publicly. But I also had noticed that it wasn't working.
I came out of college over 20 years ago, and I thought that all of my peers were men and women, all the people above me were all men, but that would change, because your generation had done such an amazing job fighting for equality, equality was now ours for the taking. And it wasn't. Because year after year, I was one of fewer and fewer, and now, often the only woman in a room. And I talked to a bunch of people about, should I give a speech at TEDWomen about women, and they said, oh no, no. It will end your business career. You cannot be a serious business executive and speak about being a woman. You'll never be taken seriously again.
But fortunately, there were the few, the proud — like you — who told me I should give the speech, and I asked myself the question Mark Zuckerberg might — the founder of Facebook and my boss — asks all of us, which is, what would I do if I wasn't afraid? And the answer to what would I do if I wasn't afraid is I would get on the TED stage, and talk about women, and leadership. And I did, and survived. (Applause)
PM: I would say, not only survived. I'm thinking of that moment, Sheryl, when you and I were standing backstage together, and you turned to me, and you told me a story. And I said — very last minute — you know, you really should share that story.
SS: Oh, yeah. PM: What was that story?
SS: Well, it's an important part of the journey. So I had — TEDWomen — the original one was in D.C. — so I live here, so I had gotten on a plane the day before, and my daughter was three, she was clinging to my leg: "Mommy, don't go." And Pat's a friend, and so, not related to the speech I was planning on giving, which was chock full of facts and figures, and nothing personal, I told Pat the story. I said, well, I'm having a hard day. Yesterday my daughter was clinging to my leg, and "Don't go."
And you looked at me and said, you have to tell that story. I said, on the TED stage? Are you kidding? I'm going to get on a stage and admit my daughter was clinging to my leg? And you said yes, because if you want to talk about getting more women into leadership roles, you have to be honest about how hard it is. And I did. And I think that's a really important part of the journey.
The same thing happened when I wrote my book. I started writing the book. I wrote a first chapter, I thought it was fabulous. It was chock-full of data and figures, I had three pages on matrilineal Maasai tribes, and their sociological patterns. My husband read it and he was like, this is like eating your Wheaties. (Laughter) No one — and I apologize to Wheaties if there's someone — no one, no one will read this book. And I realized through the process that I had to be more honest and more open, and I had to tell my stories. My stories of still not feeling as self-confident as I should, in many situations. My first and failed marriage. Crying at work. Felling like I didn't belong there, feeling guilty to this day. And part of my journey, starting on this stage, going to "Lean In," going to the foundation, is all about being more open and honest about those challenges, so that other women can be more open and honest, and all of us can work together towards real equality.
PM: I think that one of the most striking parts about the book, and in my opinion, one of the reasons it's hit such a nerve and is resonating around the world, is that you are personal in the book, and that you do make it clear that, while you've observed some things that are very important for other women to know, that you've had the same challenges that many others of us have, as you faced the hurdles and the barriers and possibly the people who don't believe the same. So talk about that process: deciding you'd go public with the private part, and then you would also put yourself in the position of something of an expert on how to resolve those challenges.
SS: After I did the TED Talk, what happened was — you know, I never really expected to write a book, I'm not an author, I'm not a writer, and it was viewed a lot, and it really started impacting people's lives. I got this great —- one of the first letters I got was from a woman who said that she was offered a really big promotion at work, and she turned it down, and she told her best friend she turned it down, and her best friend said, you really need to watch this TED Talk. And so she watched this TED Talk, and she went back the next day, she took the job, she went home, and she handed her husband the grocery list. (Laughter) And she said, I can do this.
And what really mattered to me — it wasn't only women in the corporate world, even though I did hear from a lot of them, and it did impact a lot of them, it was also people of all different circumstances. There was a doctor I met who was an attending physician at Johns Hopkins, and he said that until he saw my TED Talk, it never really occurred to him that even though half the students in his med school classes were women, they weren't speaking as much as the men as he did his rounds. So he started paying attention, and as he waited for raised hands, he realized the men's hands were up. So he started encouraging the women to raise their hands more, and it still didn't work. So he told everyone, no more hand raising, I'm cold-calling. So he could call evenly on men and women. And what he proved to himself was that the women knew the answers just as well or better, and he was able to go back to them and tell them that. And then there was the woman, stay-at-home mom, lives in a really difficult neighborhood, with not a great school, she said that TED Talk — she's never had a corporate job, but that TED Talk inspired her to go to her school and fight for a better teacher for her child. And I guess it was part of was finding my own voice. And I realized that other women and men could find their voice through it, which is why I went from the talk to the book.
PM: And in the book, you not only found your voice, which is clear and strong in the book, but you also share what you've learned — the experiences of other people in the lessons. And that's what I'm thinking about in terms of putting yourself in a — you became a sort of expert in how you lean in. So what did that feel like, and become like in your life? To launch not just a book, not just a best-selling, best-viewed talk, but a movement, where people began to literally describe their actions at work as, I'm leaning in.
SS: I mean, I'm grateful, I'm honored, I'm happy, and it's the very beginning. So I don't know if I'm an expert, or if anyone is an expert. I certainly have done a lot of research. I have read every study, I have pored over the materials, and the lessons are very clear. Because here's what we know: What we know is that stereotypes are holding women back from leadership roles all over the world. It's so striking. "Lean In" is very global, I've been all over the world, talking about it, and — cultures are so different. Even within our own country, to Japan, to Korea, to China, to Asia, Europe, they're so different. Except for one thing: gender. All over the world, no matter what our cultures are, we think men should be strong, assertive, aggressive, have voice; we think women should speak when spoken to, help others.
Now we have, all over the world, women are called "bossy." There is a word for "bossy," for little girls, in every language there's one. It's a word that's pretty much not used for little boys, because if a little boy leads, there's no negative word for it, it's expected. But if a little girl leads, she's bossy.
Now I know there aren't a lot of men here, but bear with me. If you're a man, you'll have to represent your gender. Please raise your hand if you've been told you're too aggressive at work. (Laughter) There's always a few, it runs about five percent. Okay, get ready, gentlemen. If you're a woman, please raise your hand if you've ever been told you're too aggressive at work. (Laughter) That is what audiences have said in every country in the world, and it's deeply supported by the data.
Now, do we think women are more aggressive than men? Of course not. It's just that we judge them through a different lens, and a lot of the character traits that you must exhibit to perform at work, to get results, to lead, are ones that we think, in a man, he's a boss, and in a woman, she's bossy. And the good news about this is that we can change this by acknowledging it.
One of the happiest moments I had in this whole journey is, after the book came out, I stood on a stage with John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco. He read the book. He stood on a stage with me, he invited me in front of his whole management team, men and women, and he said, I thought we were good at this. I thought I was good at this. And then I read this book, and I realized that we — my company — we have called all of our senior women too aggressive, and I'm standing on this stage, and I'm sorry. And I want you to know we're never going to do it again.
PM: Can we send that to a lot of other people that we know? (Applause)
SS: And so John is doing that because he believes it's good for his company, and so this kind of acknowledgement of these biases can change it. And so next time you all see someone call a little girl "bossy," you walk right up to that person, big smile, and you say, "That little girl's not bossy. That little girl has executive leadership skills." (Laughter)
PM: I know that's what you're telling your daughter. SS: Absolutely.
PM: And you did focus in the book — and the reason, as you said, in writing it, was to create a dialogue about this. I mean, let's just put it out there, face the fact that women are — in a time when we have more open doors, and more opportunities — are still not getting to the leadership positions. So in the months that have come since the book, in which "Lean In" focused on that and said, here are some of the challenges that remain, and many of them we have to own within ourselves and look at ourselves. What has changed? Have you seen changes?
SS: Well, there's certainly more dialogue, which is great. But what really matters to me, and I think all of us, is action. So everywhere I go, CEOs, they're mostly men, say to me, you're costing me so much money because all the women want to be paid as much as the men. And to them I say, I'm not sorry at all. (Laughter) At all. I mean, the women should be paid as much as the men.
Everywhere I go, women tell me they ask for raises. Everywhere I go, women say they're getting better relationships with their spouses, asking for more help at home, asking for the promotions they should be getting at work, and importantly, believing it themselves. Even little things. One of the governors of one of the states told me that he didn't realize that more women were, in fact, literally sitting on the side of the room, which they are, and now he made a rule that all the women on his staff need to sit at the table.
The foundation I started along with the book "Lean In" helps women, or men, start circles — small groups, it can be 10, it can be however many you want, which meet once a month. I would have hoped that by now, we'd have about 500 circles. That would've been great. You know, 500 times roughly 10. There are over 12,000 circles in 50 countries in the world.
PM: Wow, that's amazing.
SS: And these are people who are meeting every single month. I met one of them, I was in Beijing. A group of women, they're all about 29 or 30, they started the first Lean In circle in Beijing, several of them grew up in very poor, rural China. These women are 29, they are told by their society that they are "left over," because they are not yet married, and the process of coming together once a month at a meeting is helping them define who they are for themselves. What they want in their careers. The kind of partners they want, if at all. I looked at them, we went around and introduced ourselves, and they all said their names and where they're from, and I said, I'm Sheryl Sandberg, and this was my dream. And I kind of just started crying. Right, which, I admit, I do. Right? I've talked about it before. But the fact that a woman so far away out in the world, who grew up in a rural village, who's being told to marry someone she doesn't want to marry, can now go meet once a month with a group of people and refuse that, and find life on her own terms. That's the kind of change we have to hope for.
PM: Have you been surprised by the global nature of the message? Because I think when the book first came out, many people thought, well, this is a really important handbook for young women on their way up. They need to look at this, anticipate the barriers, and recognize them, put them out in the open, have the dialogue about it, but that it's really for women who are that. Doing that. Pursuing the corporate world. And yet the book is being read, as you say, in rural and developing countries. What part of that has surprised you, and perhaps led to a new perspective on your part?
SS: The book is about self-confidence, and about equality. And it turns out, everywhere in the world, women need more self-confidence, because the world tells us we're not equal to men. Everywhere in the world, we live in a world where the men get "and," and women get "or." I've never met a man who's been asked how he does it all. (Laughter)
Again, I'm going to turn to the men in the audience: Please raise your hand if you've been asked, how do you do it all? (Laughter) Men only. Women, women. Please raise your hand if you've been asked how you do it all? We assume men can do it all, slash — have jobs and children. We assume women can't, and that's ridiculous, because the great majority of women everywhere in the world, including the United States, work full time and have children.
And I think people don't fully understand how broad the message is. There is a circle that's been started for rescued sex workers in Miami. They're using "Lean In" to help people make the transition back to what would be a fair life, really rescuing them from their pimps, and using it. There are dress-for-success groups in Texas which are using the book, for women who have never been to college. And we know there are groups all the way to Ethiopia. And so these messages of equality — of how women are told they can't have what men can have — how we assume that leadership is for men, how we assume that voice is for men, these affect all of us, and I think they are very universal. And it's part of what TEDWomen does. It unites all of us in a cause we have to believe in, which is more women, more voice, more equality.
PM: If you were invited now to make another TEDWomen talk, what would you say that is a result of this experience, for you personally, and what you've learned about women, and men, as you've made this journey?
SS: I think I would say — I tried to say this strongly, but I think I can say it more strongly — I want to say that the status quo is not enough. That it's not good enough, that it's not changing quickly enough. Since I gave my TED Talk and published my book, another year of data came out from the U.S. Census. And you know what we found? No movement in the wage gap for women in the United States. Seventy-seven cents to the dollar. If you are a black woman, 64 cents. If you are a Latina, we're at 54 cents. Do you know when the last time those numbers went up? 2002. We are stagnating, we are stagnating in so many ways. And I think we are not really being honest about that, for so many reasons. It's so hard to talk about gender. We shy away from the word "feminist," a word I really think we need to embrace. We have to get rid of the word bossy and bring back — (Applause) I think I would say in a louder voice, we need to get rid of the word "bossy" and bring back the word "feminist," because we need it. (Applause)
PM: And we all need to do a lot more leaning in.
SS: A lot more leaning in.
PM: Thank you, Sheryl. Thanks for leaning in and saying yes.
SS: Thank you.
Sheryl Sandberg admits she was terrified to step onto the TED stage in 2010 — because she was going to talk, for the first time, about the lonely experience of being a woman in the top tiers of business. Millions of views (and a best-selling book) later, the Facebook COO talks with the woman who pushed her to give that first talk, Pat Mitchell. Sandberg opens up about the reaction to her idea, and explores the ways that women still struggle with success.
As the COO at the helm of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg juggles the tasks of monetizing the world’s largest social networking site while keeping its users happy and engaged.
As the COO at the helm of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg juggles the tasks of monetizing the world’s largest social networking site while keeping its users happy and engaged.