Sheryl Sandberg on her controversial book Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operator officer, argues that many women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

Download Flash Player to view this content.

First aired on Q (28/03/13)

As Facebook's second in command, former VP at Google and regular on Forbes' list of the 10 most powerful women, Sheryl Sandberg is easily one of the most influential women in the corporate and tech world. But her climb to the top hasn't been easy. In a new book called Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which she's calling part memoir, part feminist manifesto, Sandberg details how certain barriers exist for women when they go for high power positions.

"I wrote this book because I'm worried about stagnation for women at the top," she told Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "Women are not getting more than five per cent of the top jobs in any country anywhere in the world." This observation isn't new; the disadvantages women face in the workplace (less pay for equal work, the double workday and a more pronounced glass ceiling) are well documented. So rather than tell people what they most likely already know, Sandberg focuses on how women can change themselves to change their situations.

The Lean In in philosophy says if women want to see a change in their workplace they must look to themselves. According to Sandberg, women don't do this enough "[Women] are pulling back when they ought to be leaning in." Sandberg posits that women lack certain qualities that are desired in high power corporate positions, such as confidence, the ability to speak up and the assertiveness to demand equality with men in the workplace.


"Part of what Lean in is trying to do is help everyone understand that relative to men, women are less comfortable, and if we want more women in leadership roles, as women we're going to have to get ourselves to feel more comfortable. And as men and managers we're going to have to help women reach for opportunities more than they do right now".

Lean In is quickly becoming one of the most controversial and divisive books of 2013. Maureen Dowd from the New York Times describes the book's message as neo-liberal and conservative, and accuses Sandberg of being "the pom-pom girl of feminism." Q played a clip of The Guardian journalist Yvonne Roberts commenting that the book "ain't feminism." The main criticism levelled at Lean In is that it's anti-feminist because it blames women themselves, rather than systematic factors, for not attaining positions of power. Some critics have also brought up Sandberg's privilege as a rich, white woman and disputed her authority to comment on the position of all women in the workplace.

When invited to respond to the criticisms, Sandberg said she is satisfied that the issue of women's lack of mobility in the workplace is being debated and the role of gender is being openly discussed. "I think that issues run really deep for women and men," she said. "I am challenging the status quo and I am saying unapologetically that this is not good enough...and any time you challenge the status quo there's going to be a heated debate." She went on to say that she's glad the debate is taking place, "because I think this debate is the only hope we have of changing what's happening for women."

Related links: