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Tech Powerwoman Sheryl Sandberg Says : ‘It’s Not Enough To Not Harass Us; [We] Need Equal Opportunities’

When talking about the powerful women in the tech industry, there can only be so many one can name. There’s Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; Meg Whitman, former CEO of HP who has stepped down in February; Ginni Rometty, the first and current chairman, president, and CEO of IBM. And then there’s Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and who the executive editor of Recode calls the top lesbian in tech.

Sandberg has been the COO of Facebook since 2008, founded non-profit organization Lean In which supports women empowerment, and has a net worth of over $1.6 billion. Onstage at the recently held 2018 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco, California, Sandberg talked with Recode’s Kara Swisher on the challenges of making the workplace equal for men and women, and diversity as the key to many companies’ success.

Right now, the numbers are still not on the favor of women when it comes to their involvement in the science and technology fields. According to a research published by LinkedIn, there may be more women now in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) sector. There are 243 percent more test development engineers, 127 percent more architects, and 118 percent more physicists than in the last four decades.

But the changes are not enough. Women are just 20 percent of all software developers and female data analysts are just lower than 10 percent. In 2012, only 14 percent of US engineers are women and research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention in 2014 showed that nearly 40 percent of women who earn engineering degrees quit the profession or never even enter the field.

According to Sandberg, to encourage more women to the field of tech, one of the first things to address at the workplace, of course, is the safety of the workplace for women. According to a BBC survey last year, half British women have been sexually harassed at work, and an ABC News poll found out that 54 percent of Americans also experienced the same inappropriateness at work.

“#MeToo is so important,” Sandberg starts. “I mean, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment that women face, we all know, but now everyone knows, and now the question is now, what now? And this I think is so important and I’ve been doing a lot of work on it with my foundation (Lean In), which is that we need a world where women don’t get sexually harassed. Full stop. Period.”

And it’s not just enough to eradicate the hostility towards women in the workplace. Sandberg adds that women should also be getting the same opportunities and leverages men get in the workplace. “We need a world where women — and women of color particularly — get equal opportunity. It is not enough to not harass us. That’s good. Necessary, but not sufficient. And I’ve been worried about what I perceive of as the potential unintended consequences.”

She then continues with the findings of a research conducted by Lean In and SurveyMonkey, which found that almost half of male managers are “afraid to do a common work activity with a woman.”


“Almost half of male managers in the U.S. today are afraid to do a common work activity with a woman, like have a meeting. Senior men are three-and-a-half times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior woman than a junior man, five times more likely to hesitate to travel with a junior woman than a junior man and that is a problem,” Sandberg says. “Because I remember when I published Lean In five years ago, one of the most common responses I got from senior men was, ‘You’re right, I take the man out for drink, not the woman. I spend time with the man, not the woman.’ And that is the informal and formal mentoring time that women are not getting.”

“And so everyone needs to behave appropriately all the time but access needs to be equal. I believe people should be able to interact, including interact one on one in a work environment and nothing bad should happen. But if you’re not comfortable having dinner with women, do not have dinner with men.”

“We need to be explicit about this because I think this is quietly and insidiously happening, and we know one of the reasons men have gotten promoted over women, It’s not that they’re more talented,” Sandberg continues.

“I was once on a stage talking about Lean In and I really got catcalled, booed, it was really hard, and so I finally said, ‘Okay, let’s be clear, men are getting like 94 percent of the top jobs, so either you believe that men are 94 percent more talented or something else is going on. I’m going with something else is going on.’ And the catcalls stopped.”

In fact, it’s almost impossible to conclude that men are generally smarter or more talented than women when a Harvard study showed that teams that have at least one female member outperform all-male groups in collective intelligence tests. According to the research, diverse groups—where there’s at least one female in the team—tend to outperform and be more innovative than full-male groups. They have indicated evidence that “female leaders typically bring in more compassion and empathy, and a more open and inclusive negotiation to the tech ecosystem.”

Change will be hard to bring in in a few years, as it has been proven by history. But at the end, what Sandberg emphasizes is that it’s not just the women who should be fighting for equal rights and opportunities. Men, too, should be leading the change. The whole society should be leading the change. Everyone should be working together to make it happen, or it won’t work.

“Getting more women in tech and business is a societal change and a complex task that cannot be accomplished overnight, but if we, as a society and as individuals, don’t lead the change, it may never happen.”



Cover image by Asa Mathat from Recode