Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Can't Win

Monday, 11 Mar 2013 09:36 AM

By Jon Friedman

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The No. 2 Facebook executive's controversial new book, "Lean in," has emerged as the most talked-about book in a long time. Featured on "60 Minutes," Sandberg is now the focal point of an intense debate for women in the top echelons of business as well as feminists and other observers. 
 
Many recent arguments have been published about the subject of women and corporate America but Sandberg's volume has topped them in news coverage, underscoring how provocative her book already is — and will continue to be as we examine and re-define what a feminist sounds like in the 21st century. 
 
She argues that women should push harder to shatter the glass ceiling and take it upon themselves to have the same sort of workplace success as men. Sandberg means to encourage, not excoriate, women. Of course, it is easy for a billionaire like Sandberg to talk about success. What about, the counter argument goes, women who haven't had her natural advantages? How can they be expected to "lean in?"
 
Sandberg has become a lightning rod — which is why she can't win. Some women logically hail her as a role model, someone who has skillfully and doggedly invaded America's Old Boys Club to emerge as one of the most admired women in the nation. 
 
But others inevitably view her as something more complex. They note that Sandberg, given her position of power, can and should do even more than represent an ideal. They want her to throw her weight around the boardroom and make positive change for women in business. 
 
I'm sure she recognized that she wasn't going to be able to win when she wrote "Lean In." She knew the score. 
 
At the very least, Sandberg has struck a nerve among women simply because she is one of the most accomplished of them and has done something most only talk or dream about doing: crashing through the mythical glass ceiling, the much-discussed barrier that has kept women all through these years from joining their male counterparts at the top of the corporate pyramid. 
 
Sandberg's book won't end the discussion forever, of course, but she will continue to fan the flames in the United States.
 
As the writer Peg Tyre, a sensitive and sensible pundit, recently put it in the Washington Post: "I'm glad someone as successful as you has reminded young women that, yes, it is good to be confident. And I'm glad, too, that you told these newly minted college grads that crucial secret: If you want to get paid as much as a guy, you must negotiate hard for your salary, rather than accepting what is offered.
 
"Oh, and by the way, your recommendation to marry an egalitarian-minded man who will support your career — solid stuff there. Your book cold kick-start a discussion among ambitious young women about how their personal choices help or hinder women's ascent up the corporate ladder."
 
Then Tyre notes, referring to Facebook's 2012 initial public offering of stock: "You are the boss at Facebook and Facebook is handing Morgan Stanley $1.2 billion: You might have asked a few top dogs there to 'Lean In' a little, get over there institutional sexism and name another two or three women to the board." 
 
Look for more talk — pro and con — to continue in the coming weeks. This is a debate that is only getting started.
 
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers and Creating a Personal Revolution. Click here to order a copy. Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.



 

 
 
 

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