Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Challenges Women to Be More Ambitious


By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)

In December, TEDtalks posted Why we have too few women leaders (video) by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, showing the world what a powerful, ambitious woman leader looks like.

This week, Sheryl delivered a powerhouse speech this time at Barnard’s commencement. She reminded us that “women became 50% of the college graduates in this country in 1981, thirty years ago. Thirty years is plenty of time for those graduates to have gotten to the top of their industries, but we are nowhere close to 50% of the jobs at the top. That means that when the big decisions are made, the decisions that affect all of our worlds, we do not have an equal voice at that table.”

Sheryl challenged women to be more ambitious. She encouraged the young women to stay in the game — “If all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you.” She reminded women to “take a page from men and own their own success.”

This is the same point Lesa Mitchell made in women entrepreneurs are trapped in glass walls — that “womens’ startups under-perform on key measures of growth. Comparatively, few of them even grow to $1M per year in revenues. Very few build or hire on the kind of scale that can boost a region’s economy, let alone show up on the national radar screen.” The takeaway? Think bigger than you currently do, then think even bigger, whether it’s a bigger market opportunity or bigger scope.

“A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be just a much better world.”

She acknowledges that “the woman will do two times the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare that her husband will do… It’s a bit counterintuitive, but the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.”

This rings especially true to entrepreneurs who work in overdrive, and to the women who are approaching or are in their childbearing years. Comedienne Amy Poehler devoted her Time 100 speech to the nannies of the world because they allow her and other working moms to “to get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people helping at home,” saying “on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you — and I celebrate you tonight.”

To all the highly capable and driven women in the tech startup world — Let’s stay in the game, work hard and play hard. Make sure you have your bases covered and play to win.

What were your takeaways from the speech? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Angie Chang co-founded Women 2.0 in 2006 with Shaherose Charania. She currently serves as Editor-In-Chief of Women 2.0 and is working to mainstream women in entrepreneurship. Previously, Angie held roles in product management, web UI design, and entrepreneurship. In 2008, Angie launched Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, asking that guys come as the “+1” for once. Angie holds a B.A. in English and Social Welfare from UC Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter at @thisgirlangie.

  • Juliette, California

    Oh. Another “call to arms” from one of the most powerful women in tech. If it were that easy. Just “be more ambitious.”

    Yes we’re ambitious, yes we’re smart, yes we throw ourselves into learning.

    But there are few jobs, and if you are over 40 or heaven forbid over 50 and beyond childbearing, there are even fewer jobs. And in technology, if you don’t want to work “start up hours” (code: family un-friendly, geared to people with partners/nannys at home), don’t even bother applying.

    Tech co’s have no training programs, they want freshly minted grads with the latest tech skills, but few investments in retraining.

    Empty sound bites are self serving.

  • http://www.womensvcfund.com monica

    I have been priviledged to meet many strong, educated women with vision and purpose in my career. It is the lack of growth capital available to female entrepreneurs that prevents them from scaling their businesses! Less than 5% of VC investments goes towards founding teams with at least one woman!
    And, even if you have a formidable life partner who equally shares the obligations of maintaining a home and family, one never knows what is around the corner – divorce, death, disability. So, women need to be financially independent throughout their lives to be prepared for all eventualities.

  • http://www.vcmcoaching.com Victoria

    Yes there are challenges and obstacles in the world, however we must be the believers vs. the victims. My favorite quote by Henry Ford: “whether you think you can or cannot, you are right”. I am over 50 and come from technology. If I were to believe I cannot, there would be no reason to get out of bed. I believe I can! Thank you for the great question: “what would you do if you were not afraid?”.

  • eleanor roberts

    Nooo! Commenters, you have it all wrong. The Approved Narrative is to Blame The Victim! That’s the subtext of “Women aren’t ambitious/hardworking/persistent/organized/educated/smart enough to succeed” meme.

    Look, in order to Be Successful yourself (and for yourself only) start blaming your sisters, and thus get the kudos from the men you’ve let off the hook, nothing will change, but at least YOU won’t be so impoverished you’ll have to have a back alley abortion instead of full maternity leave.

    Look out for yourselves. Blame your sisters.

  • http://www.nowheretomillionaire.com karen paull
  • http://www.dinklife.com Katelyn Watson

    I love this thinking. Women need to just get out there, take risks and show awesome we can be! We have so much power that can be unleashed and need to use it to our advantage! – founder dinklife.com

  • amy

    I think it’s important to step back from Sandberg’s speech and look at value systems. Why is it that corporate careers are deemed a success? The value placed on the rise to the top? There is a thing such as work/life balance. Our corporate society does not support women + work, it’s all or none. Leaving women feeling exhausted, and overworked and lacking time with their children. It’s a frustrating cycle, which I hear all too often. There are other ways to earn equally lucrative incomes, and establishing a rewarding career through being an enterprising entrepreneur – just look at all the mom bloggers able to stay home and earn income, or product line developers, also moms. Why is the corporate boardroom a place that is only perceived as ambitious. This is great that it’s Sandberg’s path, but be cautious on leading the next generation of women into an environment that is not supportive of women as mothers.

  • independent thinker

    I read her bio. She had key positions in politics and then de facto in big companies (politics and big corporation is such a classic road for many Ivy schools graduated). I am very familiar with this road.

    Sheryl do you know how hard it is for a young educated woman to start her own company in the Silicon valley? Have you ever created a startup on your own?

    Being an entrepreneur and a risk taker is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with gender and ambition or social proof (which by the way is the dumbest concept I heard since I moved to SF).

    The fact that women are not as successful as men has to do with an arcane chauvinistic mentality.

    Ironically, a lot of women have this mentality as well.

    Thanks for the article. I have a lot of respect for this lady but for some reason her speech does not talk to me at all.

  • http://www.scorefacebookcredits.com/ Cheryl Krapinsky

    You tell it, sistah! This needed to be said by a powerful woman.

  • http://mridulavelagapudi.blogspot.com Mridula Velagapudi

    I too agree here that it is not easy for the women to make it to the top. If it were that easy, I am sure there would be many more women on top after these past 30 years!!!! Talking about entrepreneurship per se, entrepreneurship is a far far more difficult journey.

    I have written a book on Women Entrepreneurship where I have covered 19 cases of women running their small businesses. Though much of it is in Indian context. But its worthwhile to present the findings here. It has come out that 52% of these women have fabulous family support to take care of kids and household stuff. The rest are either not married and do not have kids or have started their businesses later when their kids have grown up (college goers).

    So the takeaway here? Hail the spirit of creating value and wealth and do not judge the women just because they did not make it to the top brass!!!! In the speech here it would have been courteous on her part just to mention the efforts of women who are managing both the worlds EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT IN 50% OF THE JOBS AT THE TOP !!! They are ambitious and intelligent and are superior learners too.

  • http://vabulous.com Vania

    It’s difficult to start a business period, let alone be successful. It’s hard to be a woman entrepreneur, but I think it’s harder to stay motivated and for women to believe in themselves. Sometimes I feel awesome, and other times I feel like I need to improve.
    I think women need to look at all their accomplishments throughout their lives and realize that they are awesome. Sometimes I forget to do that, too.
    If you surround yourself with people that want to succeed and would like to help see you succeed, you will be that much more motivated.

  • Lauren

    I agree with Cheryl that finding a true partner and co-parent is essential for having the luxury of going after a big job or taking on the responsibilities and pressures of a start-up. What she doesn’t address, though, is that you also need the financial resources (acquired through early success or your husband) to take on the financial risks of entrepreneurship. Start-ups don’t exactly pay the nanny bills!

  • Elaine

    Many of the comments above sum up the exact problems Sheryl tried to address in both of her speeches. If this is a speech to men (on a relevant but different topic probably :^)), I don’t think men will post comments with similar sadness or negativity. No one is saying being a great mom isn’t success, in fact, this is what we have been taught and will continue to teach others in a world run by men. If it is truly equal, there should be more talks on it is okay to be a woman on the top of politics, corporations, no-profits, etc. It is okay for men to call it success as being a great father, too. She is right that our generation isn’t going to change this. I hope the next generation and the next will. And thank God those young girls don’t read those negative comments.

  • Janet FitzGerald

    Mridula Velagapudi’s post resonates with my observations.

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