Powerful Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg is out to make herself less of an anomaly as she launches a campaign to inspire women to pursue their passions at work and at home.
The 43-year-old mom and Facebook chief operating officer on Monday releases “Lean In,” in which she weaves stories from her life with insights regarding women being held back from reaching career highs on par with male peers.
“This book is for women of all ages,” Sandberg said at the freshly-launched LeanIn.org website.
“I believe the world would be a better place if half our companies and half the countries were run by women, and half our homes were run by men. This is about believing in yourself.”
Sandberg is a longtime champion of women being able to embrace careers as fiercely as men do, while being equal partners when it comes to caring for homes and families.
Profit from her much-anticipated motivational book will go to LeanIn.org. The campaign officially launched on Wednesday.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, actress Reese Witherspoon, US Senator Barbara Boxer and former US first lady Laura Bush are among the women sharing their personal stories at LeanIn.org.
“Taken collectively, these stories paint a picture of the shared struggles and obstacles we all face,” Sandberg said in a blog post.
“They allow us to see how stretching for a goal and believing in yourself can pay off.”
LeanIn.org encourages people to make “circles” of kindred spirits to meet with regularly to share ideas and experiences.
The website also features free lessons on subjects such as negotiation, team dynamics, and “the body language of power.”
The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University provided material from courses for executive women and did research for Sandberg’s book, according to associate director Lori Nishiura Mackenzie.
“She is using her public capital on behalf of all women and I think that is brave,” Mackenzie said of Sandberg.
“Gender equality has been stalled since the 1990s; bringing answers to the public conversation is a revolutionary act.”
The book is already causing controversy, with some criticizing Sandberg for urging women to “lean in” rather than fix gender-biased systems.
Sandberg said she hoped to encourage women to believe in their dreams and to help men “do their part to form a more equal world by making sure all of us have opportunities based on our passions and interests, not just our gender.”
A theme of the book is that women throttle back on careers to save room down the line for children and home life, even if they are young and unattached.
The book expands on an 18-minute talk Sandberg gave on stage at a prestigious TED Conference in 2010. A video clip of the talk had logged just shy of two million views online at Ted.com by midday Friday.
“She tells stories in her book but really grounds it in research by social scientists,” Mackenzie said.
“She doesn’t say the balance between work and personal life is easy. She says ‘lean in;’ let’s work it out together.”
Sandberg has been hit with the expected gripe that it is easy for a rich woman to have it all when it comes to balancing work and family.
“No matter what is in the book, you knew she would get flak from people because she is a powerful, wealthy woman,” said Heidi Hartmann, founder and president of the non-partisan Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“Women’s groups want to see systemic changes and not focus on what women need to do differently,” Hartmann continued. “That is what the debate is going to come down to.”
Hartmann spoke of a “chicken and egg” quandary, in that women leaning into their careers could elevate them to positions of power from which they could change the system.
“I understand that Sheryl is addressing the tendency of women to hold back because they might have a family,” Hartmann said. “The perception women are holding back is widely shared.”
[Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg via AFP]