Sh­eryl Sand­berg,

AND THE PROB­LEM WITH AMER­ICA’S WOMEN LEADER

Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

On 11 March, the same day t hat Sher y l Sand­berg’s much- an­tic­i­pated ca­reer book was re­leased, Time mag­a­zine dis­played a por­trait of her on its cover with the ironic head­line: Don’t Hate Her Be­cause She’s Suc­cess­ful.

This cover ap­pear­ance was a first for the 43-year-old Face­book chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and unof­fi­cial head girl of Sil­i­con Val­ley, who helped Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg turn his dorm room start-up into a $67bn em­pire. Her de­but book, en­ti­tled Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead is a 240-page ex­tended ad­vice col­umn that seeks to an­swer the ques­tion of why women are strug­gling to achieve top po­si­tions in the male-dom­i­nated up­per ech­e­lons of the work­place. It also of­fers in­sights based on her own aus­pi­cious rise to the top. Time ’s choice of head­line, which hov­ers omi­nously over Sand­berg’s petite frame, is prophetic to say the least.

Sand­berg first de­liv­ered her ex­hor­ta­tion in a se­ries of highly doc­u­mented talks in 2010, start­ing with a much dis­cussed TED talk in which she be­moaned the paucity of fe­male lead­ers in top government and cor­po­rate tiers and sug­gested that the phe­nom­e­non was largely due to a gen­der-spe­cific un­will­ing­ness to “lean in”, sug­gest­ing that women were in­her­ently hold­ing back on ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties due to a com­bi­na­tion of self-doubt, fear of coming off as too ag­gres­sive, and an in­cli­na­tion to “leave be­fore you leave” – the act of scal­ing back work re­spon­si­bil­i­ties pre­ma­turely in an­tic­i­pa­tion of hav­ing a fam­ily. The book bol­sters her mes­sage with ex­haus­tive re­search, anec­dotes from her suc­cess­ful cor­po­rate con­tem­po­raries and of­fers so­lu­tions to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion. Don’t be afraid to “sit at the ta­ble”, own our own success, let go of the fear of be­ing dis­liked.

In the days fol­low­ing, and even pre­ced­ing the book’s re­lease, a pat­tern of vit­ri­olic crit­i­cism emerged. Most of the cri­tiques were de­riv­a­tive spats by fe­male jour­nal­ists, who filled col­umn inches and blog posts with sim­i­lar dis­parag­ing re­marks that Sand­berg’s ap­proach was elit­ist, that her book was a van­ity project, her on­line or­gan­i­sa­tion a thinly-veiled per­sonal mar­ket­ing cam­paign, and that her author­ity on the sub­ject was un­der­mined by her po­si­tion of priv­i­lege. The list goes on and on. The fact that the ma­jor­ity of th­ese crit­ics also ad­mit­ted, rather sheep­ishly, that they had failed to take the time to ac­tu­ally read the book says as much about the state of jour­nal­ism in mod­ern so­ci­ety as it does about the un­healthy ob­ses­sion with pub­lic take­downs in mod­ern Amer­ica.

Her an­tag­o­nists all seem to agree on one thing: That Sand­berg’s at­tempt to in­spire, although well-mean­ing, gets mis­con­strued as an act of blam­ing when it trans­lates into the ver­nac­u­lar of the ev­ery­day women. As Avi­vah Wit­ten­berg-Cox, a gen­der con­sul­tant as quoted in The New York Times, puts it: The real prob­lem is that Sand­berg “does what too many suc­cess­ful women be­fore

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