Sheryl Sandberg’s Top 3 Tips to Keep Women in High Level Jobs

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Yesterday’s post about an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” written by a women in a high-level position with the State Department, who chose to leave her job in order to spend more time with her family generated quite a discussion yesterday. I would like to continue the discussion today.

Many thanks to Diana from TalktoDiana for her passion and engagement. In the comments section, she shared this TED Talk, by Sheryl Sandberg, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, which I would like to share with all of you today:

This video confirms many of the statistics included in the Atlantic article. Ms. Sandberg also posits some theories about the root causes behind the statistics. She discusses three important reasons why she believes that there are not more women in leadership positions, and offers advice for women who would like to change these realities. Her advice includes:

Women need to sit at the table

Make your partner a real partner

Don’t leave before you leave

I will not go into detail on these three reasons, as I could certainly do no better job than Ms. Sandberg in explaining this complex issue. But I encourage you to watch the talk if you are interested in helping think through this more.

The first reason will resonate with most women. Women simply have less faith in their abilities to succeed than men. It is a fascinating reality that I do not fully understand, but we have all seen and felt it in action. As an example, Sandberg highlights data showing that most women do not negotiate salaries and most men do.

The second reason will also resonate: women need to stop doing all the work at home. The statistics – and people’s personal realities – show that this is an expectation which makes it hard for women to reach professional heights they might otherwise like to reach. Perhaps women need to stop enabling this reality. (I should mention that I do not suffer from this particular problem. My husband is much tidier and a much better cook than me – good man.)

The third reason really intrigues me. Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg points out that many women make professional choices and changes before life circumstances require them to do so. I know this to be true, as I believe will other women.

I remember applying for a job several years ago. We had just moved to a new city and I had been volunteering and looking for work for several months. While my husband and I have been fortunate professionally, our lifestyle requires two incomes.

My husband and I had been trying to conceive a baby and I was absolutely convinced that I was pregnant, which is probably a subject to which many couples can also relate. I was called in for a promising job interview.

I distinctly recall talking with my best friend about whether or not I should disclose the fact that I was pregnant to the potential employer. My best friend, who is one of the superwomen described in the Atlantic article who is currently doing it all with a high level job and two small children, said “Don’t say a word.”

I turned out not to be pregnant. Wise advice from a wise woman. I believe that this type of thinking is what Sandberg refers to in the TED Talk. I am not sure why women do this, but we frequently adjust our plans based on what might be, rather than what is. I appreciate Sandberg’s advice and plan to put her suggestions into action. Thank you again to Diana for sharing this TEDtalk with us.

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Yesterday, I also came across an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Being Murphy Brown in a June Cleaver World.” Apparently, there is an entire column in the Wall Street Journal called The Juggle dedicated to just these issues. This article just confirms my suspicion that regardless of the choices a woman makes she will feel inadequate in one portion of her life or another.

There is so much to discuss here. But I believe the key is to start having an honest dialogue about how society can enable women and men to contribute to professional society, and also allow them to have fulfilling and contented lives at home – without guilt.

I am thinking about gathering personal stories about people’s experiences with these dilemmas to turn into a book. Women and men both have a lot of stories to tell. I would love to speak with high-level professional women to learn about how they have handled this and lessons they have learned along the way.

What do you think? Does the TED Talk resonate with you? Do you have feelings of guilt regarding your adequacy as a parent or a professional, or both? Or have you been forced to make these difficult choices? How did you decide which road to take? How do you think we start to shift the paradigm, as Hugh suggested yesterday? What else does this bring up for you? Do you think there is a book idea here or are there too many books on this topic already? Any thoughts on how I should get started?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.   


Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

17 responses to “Sheryl Sandberg’s Top 3 Tips to Keep Women in High Level Jobs

  1. Thanks for the passionate discussion yesterday inspired by your post. It’s definitely a complex subject and solving complex issues always starts with conversation.

    • Absolutely. I can’t say I was shocked by the response. It’s like a damn is ready to break on this for women our age! Thanks for helping move the conversation forward and let me know if you want to collaborate on a book!

  2. I haven’t shied away from talks regarding work/life balance with my fiancee, as we hope to have kids in several years. She’s working on an MBA and is, admittedly, more career-driven than I am. How we will navigate the challenges of child-rearing, time-off from work, and career choices is on my mind. As a teacher, I’m in a position to do more around the house with lots of vacation and a shortish work day (if I limit myself).
    I wouldn’t mind–I don’t think–being a Mr. Mom, if that seemed best for the family. However, I am curious to see how my fiancee reacts down to road to having a child. Will she want to stay home? Put career goals on hold? I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense to make firm decisions before a child enters our world, god-willing, down the line.

    • Good for you and good for your fiance. I think a lot of couples don’t talk about this before marriage, which probably contributes to the complexity. But I beet you are right – it is hard to know exactly how to plan with something as personal and emotional as child rearing. But it sounds like you are off to a good start. Cheers to another good man! 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Jennifer, I obviously cannot relate to this issue as your other contributors have, but I would say that it’s understandable that women would lack such things as negotiating skills: they tend to be less assertive because for centuries (since Adam and Eve?) they have been told they are stupid, cannot think, and should just shut up and keep house. Women have “come a long way, baby” but there are miles yet to go. I’m pulling for you (and I do the dishes at our house!) 🙂

  4. The flip side to this of course, is that in some ways, women of the past had more freedom to be unambitious. When I was growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, I didn’t feel that I had any choice but to become a leader of some sort. Maybe that was a good thing, but I wonder sometimes if the yin aspect of being a woman or a person for that matter gets lost in the American culture.
    So, while I’d like to see more women in leadership roles, I would also like to see a more laid-back culture in general, which requires a different kind of leader, whether man or woman.
    This whole subject of how American culture is being defined and led is one I continue to think about and don’t really have answers about what is best.

    • Absolutely! I didn’t see any other path when I was young either. And I love working. But I think the answer has to be more systemic. Like Katie said above, businesses need to see the health and wellness of their employees, male and female, as a benefit to their bottom line. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, as usual.

  5. You have brought up some interesting points.

    I’m wondering whether my attitude toward this subject is based on my age (considerably older than 40) or whether it is based on my lack of ambition. I’ve always wanted to work with children in a classroom, not work in a board room. I have no mind for numbers or business, so even if I wanted to, I doubt this would have worked for me. My daughter seems to be headed in the same direction, choosing education as her career, although I’m wondering whether this has more to do with school hours and vacations synching with a child’s free time as opposed to actually wanting to be a teacher.

    Despite all this, I would hope that, if she ever has a daughter, that the opportunities are put into place so that she could conceivably be in a high-level business job if she wanted it. I would want my granddaughter to have the confidence to succeed in whatever profession she wanted and could strive to achieve it despite any obstacles and without guilt being placed on her by ‘family obligations’. Thanks for presenting the subject for consideration. I hope that it will make a lot of young women think hard about what they want in life and if that means dividing her time between home and work, I hope they will have opportunities to balance their lives. 🙂

    • Me too. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it? Especially if we include men as equal partners who are making similar sacrifices in the equation. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

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