Sheryl Sandberg is not backing down.
The Facebook chief operating officer’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead went on sale yesterday amid criticism that she is too successful and rich to lead a movement. However, Sandberg says her focus remains on spurring action and progress among women.
“The conversation, the debate is all good, because where we were before was stagnation — and stagnation is bad,” she said in an interview. “And sometimes it takes real heated debate to wake people up and find a solution.”
With Lean In, Sandberg aims to arm women with the tools and guidance they need to keep moving forward in the workforce. The book’s release was coupled with the launch of Sandberg’s LeanIn.org, a nonprofit that will receive all of the book’s proceeds.
The book is not just for women. It calls on men to lend support, both at home and in the office.
“This is about who we are as people,” Sandberg said. “Who we can be as individuals and as a society.”
In the book, Sandberg illuminates facts about the dearth of women in positions of power and offers real-world solutions. Women make up only 14 percent of executive officers, 18 percent of elected congressional officials and 22 of 197 heads of state, she wrote.
What is worse is women have not made true progress in corporate America over the past decade, she said, adding that boardrooms are still as overwhelmingly male as they were 10 years ago.
“While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry,” she wrote in Lean In. “This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, the voices of women are not heard equally.”
Sandberg, 43, has worked at Facebook as its No. 2 executive since 2008. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lured her away from Google to help run what has since become a social networking powerhouse and formidable Google rival.
Sandberg said it has only been in the last few years that she has started thinking seriously about the issues affecting working women. As recently as three years ago, she said she would not have spoken the words “women in the workforce.”
“You never say the word ‘woman’ as a working woman because if you do, the person on the other side of the table is going to say you are asking for special treatment,” she said.
However, seeing women stall in their quest for corporate success bothered her more and more. In 2010, she was asked to speak at the newly minted TEDWomen, an arm of the annual TED conference which showcases “ideas worth spreading.”
Her speech was titled: “Why we have too few women leaders.” The video became wildly popular. It has been viewed more than 2 million times on TED’s Web site.
Yet before she gave the speech, Sandberg said “a whole bunch of people told me not to.”
“That was really the first time I spoke up,” she said.
Since then, Sandberg has come to call herself “a proud feminist.”
Sandberg said it was the flood of responses that she received following the speech that got her thinking about writing a book. Some women wrote to her and said the speech encouraged them to ask for a raise. Others said it motivated them to ask for more family-friendly work hours.
LeanIn.org grew out of the book with the help of co-founder Gina Bianchini, who was inspired by a course she took at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research called “Voice & Influence.”
Its mission — “to empower women and men to be as effective as possible and to create organizations where all people can thrive” — is at the core of LeanIn.org.
LeanIn.org hopes to reach as many people as possible by offering materials and easy-to-replicate guidelines online, for free.
Sandberg calls it a platform, which, in the technology world, means something that others can take, change and make their own.