Sandberg’s book rings true for Silicon Valley women
Mar 11 2013
In her own technology sector, women remain woefully underrepresented in leadership roles, even more so than in fields generally considered heavily male-dominated like financial services. Sandberg’s willingness to tackle the issue of women and leadership is drawing plaudits from many in Silicon Valley.
“She is bringing a topic forward that a lot of people want to talk about,” says Blair Christie, chief marketing officer at networking company Cisco Systems. “It doesn’t matter what side of the debate you’re on.”
Sandy Kurtzig — one of the first women founders to take a company through an initial public offering when her software company, Ask, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1981 — brushes aside the criticism that Sandberg is speaking from heights unattainable for most women.
“To put herself out there is how she’s chosen to contribute,” says Kurtzig. “You need more role models.”
Sandberg’s book is the follow-up to talks she gave starting in 2010 on why the world has too few women leaders. After working at the US Treasury Department, Sandberg scaled the heights of Silicon Valley, moving from Google to chief operating officer at Facebook while raising two children. The 43-year-old is adamant about making it home every night for dinner. Advance press for Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead has sparked a fierce debate between supporters and detractors on the internet. A bestselling book could ensure the debate has practical results in workplaces across the US.
Lean In offers tips for women in the workforce in general, such as how to command more respect through simple acts such as sitting tall at a conference table and speaking assertively at meetings. Points like that might sound lightweight, but can have a big effect, says Theresia Gouw Ranzetta of venture firm Accel Partners, the firm known for backing Facebook in its early days.
“It impacts the way people perceive you,” she says. “But you have to have the substance to back it up.” She recalls receiving similar coaching early in her career when she worked as a management consultant at Bain & Co. Kurtzig, now founder and chief executive of software start-up Kenandy, says too often she has seen women walk into a conference room and automatically head for chairs around the edges of the room rather than the main table. The message: “You’re a support person,” she says. “Not a main character.”
She is not as positive about Sandberg’s pitch for women to join "Lean In Circles," or groups where they can support each other and learn how to achieve more success in their careers. “In business, you need to assimilate into the world, and the world is men and women,” she says. Many technology veterans believe employers need to do more to help women gain entry to executive suites. “How women show up and really drive their success in the workplace is important,” says Cisco’s Christie. “But there’s a huge role for employers to move the topic of gender diversity where it needs to be.”
She lays part of the blame on the paucity of women executives in technology on the relative immaturity of the sector. More established companies have strong development programs that have tried to foster the advancement of women, she says, while technology companies have generally focused on keeping up with their rapid growth.