Tag Archives: Sheryl Sandberg

1973-2014: Women in the workplace


From 1973 to 2006, a major shift in women being head of the household and supporting their families was reported to have grown from one in ten to one in five as reported by Maria Shiver and the Center for American Progress.  41% of mothers are the primary breadwinner, it has been reported by the population reference bureau in 2012.  It  was reported that 27% of Latino and 52 % African American  children are being raised with their moms as the primary provider of the family income.  Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ brings up the question of what the past forty years of progress have meant to women in the workforce.  The frontrunners who brought to their work in 1940 the first workers rights and through the process of gaining the ERA and Lilly Ledbetter have what seems like the opportunity to fulfill their working lives as they desire.


What holds them back from taking on leadership is the basis of the chapter in Sheryl Sandberg’s book on The Leadership Ambition Gap.  Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, brings up the question of the source of that gap.   She takes us through an argument about the fact that the sex and gender bias through which the past decades have provided a more level playing field , for women has brought us to where we are today.  But gender stereotypes-attitudes and ways of being that are approved of by the social peers of women, both men and women, have an undeniable impact, and they remain with us.  She says that most leadership positions are held by men.  Men are more risk friendly and take on projects that have a more uncertain outcome potential, unspecified means to accomplish the tasks than women.  Why  that is Sandberg says as she looks through her own experience as Facebook COO hiring the women who come aboard is that most women are not “worried about having it all-they are worried about losing it all.”


Women, she stresses demonstrate a need to be liked as a primary concern and leadership by men and women are negatively assessed about women who show what could be called assertive behavior.  Women judge each other  negatively for office behavior acceptable if a man does the same behavior she reports.  Fear of not being liked, fear of failure, being shown up as inadequate Sandberg reports is an internalized restriction that holds women back from wanting to be successful.  This internal barrier has women hold back from opportunities that are seized by their male co workers.


She demonstrates this further in the book by an example of a meeting where she observed women not putting “their hand up,” not trusting their place, their contribution- that what they offer has value.  These are women with fine educations and success in school and in the workplace.  She gives an example of her own hesitancy and embarrassment as it represents her peers. Even if encouraged to participate in a non hierarchical patriarchal business model such as Facebook, she works through to new behavior at the table with hands up and engaged not as automatic, but a rideover the tendancy and propensity she has experienced within herself.  She recommends that women be aware of the go to place of doubt, factoring it in and choosing response that better represent the value of participation and contribution.


Pretty amazing stuff coming from this COO of Facebook, Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business who speaks directly to the heart of the matter for women today who unintentionally hold themselves back and need to Lean In and bring themselves and their talents to the world.  The “power of authentic communication” that she stresses as the antidote to the challenges of leadership by women.  “Seek and speak” our truth is her recommendation in the goal of true equality.


Sandberg references the hard work of the frontrunners before us.  She quotes Gloria Steinem who marched the streets in the 70’s and gained recognition of the fact that women had a right to work, that work was needed by women as well as men.   For men and women fulfillment and the production and function of work is a source of  gratification and esteem, and in itself a reward for both men and women.  Accordingly, Steinem conveyed the need  for equal access to the benefit of the work and the compensation.


World War II brought women into the workplace as 16.1 million Americans were drafted into the war.  Over that period of time, the jobs in the shipyards, in the factories, on the farms were taken by women.  Rosie the Riveter is symbolic of all the wren who took the jobs for men and in that period of time, worker’s rights were born.  In the ship factories of Richmond, California as well as other locations.  Many of the women who came to California left South Carolina, Georgia and Texas as well as other places.  When the men returned, their jobs were returned to them and most of the women returned to the home by 1945 as housewives and mothers.  The economy was such that the birth of the single family home through the accessible Veteran’s loans for housing and college changed the dynamics and potential of how women lived their lives.

The VA loans for all the soldiers with home purchases, and all the appliances and furniture needed for the home produced a bustling economy by 1950.   An ideal was established, a new concept really, of the woman in “home making ,” which was taught in colleges as well as strongly encouraged in the social milieu of the 50’s.  Prior to World War II, most families lived with grandparents, parents and children not so much for sentiment, but as a unit responsible for keeping the family going with the wives and children by age 7 at working on the farms, in the factories or in the shops.  Prior to World War II and The New Deal, there was no social security for elders, no medical or social assistance for children or mothers.  The church and the families were the source of support for the widows or those families where help was needed.  The divorce rate was 4%; it was not uncommon if a parent left the home that he or she was never heard from again, and the family and church picked up the slack to aid the family.

The single family home left the mother in the suburbs.  The dysfunction of unhappy wives was a new concept really, not one recognized prior to this new family phenomena.  Masters and Johnson did their studies on women who were unwilling or unable to satisfy their partners in bearing children or as a comfort to the needs of the father.  1950’s was also the highest level of alcoholism recorded, and at that time, the dawning recognition that alcoholism was not just weakness of character, but a condition requiring help from a community such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Women did work out of the home who were single, but often were required to give up their jobs once married.  It was the Viet Nam war that allowed women to come out of their homes again given the measures of who worked in the job market at that time.  In 1964, birth control became available to women altering their lives forever allowing direct responsibility for their sexuality.  All of these changes allowed  women to seek and place value on their lives and for their lives.  Recognition of the choices they now had often came through contact with the issues around the huge social change shaking up the established order in the form of civil rights and the antiwar movement.   As the deaths of soldiers happened all over the country, the urban concentration of protests to the Viet Nam war brought recognition across the country of the need for change, and the need to end the war.  Black and white televisions in the homes united the country in terms of access to information and experience of the Babtist Church in Alabama band the three little girls killed in Alabama had what would have been local, of national consequence.

Women were talking to each other as they volunteered in the movements.  They began to identify and participate in what would be called the second wave of feminism, the women’s movement of the late 60’s.  Historian Ruth Rosen in her book The World Split Open identifies the Women’s movement progression at that time.  Through the Commission of Women’s Issues engendered by John F. Kennedy in 1961,  a document identifying 47 sexual injuries to women in the work place and home impacted and encouraged the later development of a very vocal Woman’s movement in New York City and Chicago in particular. By all accounts, the Women’s movement was a white middle class movement and challenged women, engaged them to a point, but did not reach the majority of women.

Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, also challenged women to consider a whole other level of understanding about their sexuality.  For those women, their roles, society’s view of them and the contradictions they experienced provided a new awareness of themselves. It was far from comfortable, particularly as women found their differences in how they responded to the times that challenged the a priori of what it was to be a successful woman.  Those who did respond to the revolution with its shrill demands for change found themselves on a path with no guaranteed destination.  Without protection or structure, they were the barefoot frontrunners. Ridiculed within the family and the communities in which they lived and worked, they were called “strident and bossy” and unfeminine.  Within the Women’s movement itself, a great deal of conflict prevailed as to the means to bring about sexual and social equality for women.

For the majority of non urban women who were not in college or academic environment, there was no real understanding of the need for the struggle underway, no way to assimilate what seemed alien to what they knew of the world around them.  As they report these years, the effect on these women was to distance themselves from the stereotypical feminists.  As some other women made new decisions, taking on new responsibilities to determine their lives, and dealing with the hard work of establishing new identities, most women at the time steered clear of the conflict within themselves as well as the building of external pressure from a changing society.

But for all women, the doors that opened with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Affirmative Action directive were recognized.  More women in college and in jobs that had not been accessible to them was the result through affirmative action.  Life was changing across the US, but played out dynamically and emphatically in California, New York and Chicago.    Roe VS Wade in 1973 turned the tide even further to greater choice options in determining how women lived their lives.  Work became central to many women’s lives, and the value of full participation that began in the 80’s has set up further choice for women.  The result is the as noted that 41% of families have women as the head of household and family provider.

Gloria Steinem has maintained consistently the value of work to women as the means to personal power and determining their own destiny.  Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, points out that women have not taken full advantage of the opportunities that are available to them in the work place.   Sandberg states that the march to true equality is not over but must continue to be the fight for women to be at least half of the leadership in business and in government.  That is the question of the day,  but does true equality represent the percentage of women in management?  More the case is the discovery made pubic by Google that women in the tech industry don’t stay on.  They don’t stay on, Google execs have hypothesized because they are not seen and heard and given a platform to contribute what is distinctly theirs to contribute.  Feminism is really not about which sex you are, but about the distribution of power.  Power to be seen, heard and responded to by building new strategies envisioned by women in the workplace, in our politics, in our universities is the new world many feel must come to bring about the sustainable future we all hope to embrace.

Interestingly enough, that’s what Warren Buffet said as well this past weekend.   He said we need to be open to the contribution of women in the workplace and they should be represented fully.   It is an inside job for the women-knowing their responses and measuring the corrections that have them act in accordance with their desires and wants.  For all the right reasons, men who support women taking on leadership in the world are bringing about  a new world and a new society of inclusion and promise.