Already a lightning rod for arguing that women must "lean in," push hard and do more to advance their own careers, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg is doubling down on the debate with a high-profile book launch next week and a nationwide campaign to form a network of support groups for working women.
"The blunt truth is that men still run the world," she says in "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead," her new book that combines personal anecdotes, career advice and what she describes as "sort of a feminist manifesto." She adds: "Social gains are never handed out. They must be seized."
The unusual campaign, which the wealthy Sandberg is financing from her book proceeds, has drawn a mix of cheers and skepticism from other women's advocates. Some are thrilled that such a prominent tech figure, who has held top jobs at Google and Facebook, is actively championing women's advancement. Others wonder if the 43-year-old Sandberg, a one-time chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, wants to spark a social movement or simply launch the next stage in her career, perhaps even a bid for public office.
Sandberg is clearly "sticking her neck out" on a controversial topic, said Laura Kray, a management professor who studies gender at the University of California-Berkeley. Kray said Sandberg's plan to launch a network of "Lean In Circles" is ambitious in scope and unprecedented as an effort to help women get ahead.
"She's in a unique position to sell this message and get it out there," Kray added.
Sandberg, whose Facebook stock holdings are estimated at more than $400 million, is personally funding the nonprofit foundation, LeanIn.org, that has developed a detailed curriculum for the discussion circles, with online videos and tutorials on such topics as negotiating, body language and leadership, from Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
"Lean in" is Sandberg's advice to women who are often conditioned to do just the opposite. Women are too reluctant to negotiate for higher salaries and other rewards, she says, while being too quick to "lean back" from their careers in anticipation of having children -- passing up promotions or additional responsibilities before they are pregnant or even married. They also need husbands or partners to share equally in housework and child-raising, she adds.
Not surprisingly, given Sandberg's ties with two of tech's hottest companies, the campaign has a Silicon Valley flavor. There's a website with personal testimonials from an array of business, political and entertainment figures, including Oprah Winfrey and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. There's also a Facebook page and software for online sharing from Palo Alto, Calif., startup Mightybell, whose CEO, Gina Bianchini, is a co-founder of LeanIn.org.
Sandberg is using her own star power to promote the book and the foundation, kicking off with an interview Sunday night on CBS's "60 Minutes," followed by a three-part series on ABC's "Good Morning America" and serialized excerpts in Cosmopolitan and Time. As a former Google executive who is now chief operating officer at Facebook, Sandberg is both prominent and one of few women in the highest echelons of tech.
While acknowledging her advice won't work for everyone, Sandberg urges women to change their approach if they want parity at the top. But she has seen a backlash against her argument that women must do more to "raise their hands" and promote themselves, which she first outlined at a 2010 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference.
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