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The Book "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg is Examined

Aired March 23, 2013 - 14:30   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're back at the top of the hour with more news. I am Fredricka Whitfield. Right now a CNN, "What Women Want, Sheryl Sandberg."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Some call Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" the start of a new feminist revolution. Sandberg says it is a sort of feminist manifesto. But can it work? The 43-year-old chief executive officer of Facebook says wedge can succeed if they Lean Into their careers and lean on society to make sure nature and nurture are combining to make tomorrow's female leaders.

SHERYL SANDBERG, AUTHOR, "LEAN IN": We expect our boys to lead and our girls to nurture. Go to the playground. Will you see parents call their daughters bossy, a word almost never used for our sons.

O'BRIEN: Even Sandberg's critics applaud her desire to change the future but they accuse her of being out of touch with the obstacles many women are facing now. Can they have successful careers and happy families? The devil is in the details.

Hi, I am Soledad O'Brien and over the next half hour we'll take a closer look at some of those details as we explore Sheryl Sandberg's campaign for women to Lean In.

SANDBERG: Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. Men run the world. We continue to do the majority of the housework and childcare.

O'BRIEN: She has been saying it for many years, and now Sheryl Sandberg is writing about it.

SANDBERG: I wrote a book called "Lean In," and I really want to help change the conversation on women from what we can't do to what we can.

O'BRIEN: A prescription she spells out in hard type. Chapter 4, "A Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder, a unique path with occasional dips and Detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment than a stiff ladder. In chapter 7, "Don't leave before you leave. She says the months and years before you have children are not the time to lean back but the critical time to Lean In. Chapter 8, "Make your Partner a Real Partner." As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home.

What's the upside for men? You talk a lot in the book about how men have to be partners, 50/50 percent, and I can see a lot of husbands saying why, since 70/30 is great?

SANDBERG: Or 80/20.

O'BRIEN: Right, 90/10, the best.

SANDBERG: That's right. In the home we know that couples that split things more evenly, lower divorce rate, happier, more sex. I have said, the best way to have more sex with your wife is do the laundry. My Facebook message stream is filled with male friends of saying I would love to read your book but I am with his I doing the laundry.

O'BRIEN: This mother of two says she was able to navigate her own raise by communicating well with her all male bosses.

SANDBERG: Hi, guys. How are you?

O'BRIEN: Now she is the boss and wants to change the conversation between employer and employee.

What would you say to an employee who said, listen, I am pregnant, I am on a big project, I need your advice.

SANDBERG: I would like to think I would talk to them before they had to talk to me and that's part of the message of Lean In.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that illegal to have a conversation about a pregnancy or impending pregnancy or potential pregnancy with an employee?

SANDBERG: Here is what is illegal. It is illegal to terminate on the basis of pregnancy.

O'BRIEN: People don't talk about it because they're worried that termination will follow.

SANDBERG: That's right. I think they're exactly wrong.

AREVA MARTIN, AUTHOR, "JOURNEY TO THE TOP": Many women will say I can't relate to anything this woman is saying. I don't have an army of help at home. I don't have a nanny, a driver, a cook. I don't have a 9,000 square foot home.

O'BRIEN: Areva Martin wrote "Journey to the Top," her own story of rising from housing projects to the boardroom. She thinks Sandberg is making it sound too easy.

MARTIN: I think there is a sense that this book is really speaking to the top one percent, the top two percent of earners, female earners in this country.

O'BRIEN: Sandberg insists having more women at the top will help all women, although some of her supporters, like Silicon Valley executive Heidi Rosen, acknowledge the book may not be relevant for everyone.

HEIDI ROIZEN, VENTURE CAPITALIST: Sheryl wrote this for a particular section of the female workforce. She didn't try to apply this to all women in all positions. She is getting picked on like she can't win. SANDBERG: Held back by discrimination by lack of constitution of flexibility and child care that's not affordable and so many of these things.

O'BRIEN: Are you picking up the mantle of feminism? Many people bristle against that word.

SANDBERG: So I wrote in the book that I never used the word "feminism" to describe myself until a number of years ago. When I was in college or even recently, you don't want to be a feminist.

O'BRIEN: Why not?

SANDBERG: Feminists don't get dates. Feminists were angry or done because everything was going to be equal. It hasn't worked out that way, and I now proudly call myself a feminist. And when you survey women and ask are you a feminist and you pro I a definition, which means you believe in equal opportunity for men and women, more than half the population will say yes.

O'BRIEN: Sheryl Sandberg says she will ignite a new feminist movement. What will that revolution look like? We go inside one of her Lean In circles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is like a book club for your career.

O'BRIEN: Plus, her name was Heidi. His name was Howard. Really they were one in the same. We'll take a look at the social science behind Sandberg's theories on gender inequality.


LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: I have two girls who have been leaning in since the day they were born. I think they're both very interested in the outside world and in life outside of themselves. When you go through those teenaged years, teenagers are usually very self- conscious. And my advice always to teenagers and young people is to move outside of yourself by looking at other people, by looking at ways you can use your own talents either to help other people or support other people or develop your interests.

O'BRIEN: Former first lady Laura Bush agrees with Sheryl Sandberg. Women need to Lean In. She joined the board of Lean In's organization. If top women are leaning into their careers, why are more women not leading companies or leading government? Less than 50 percent of all CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women. Even though there are more women than men living in the United States, Congress is still dominated by men. The House of Representatives, 82 percent male.

How can Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In circles help women break through while they still enjoy a happy family life? We went inside one of those Lean In circles to find out.

CAROLINE GHOSN, FORMED THE "LEAN IN CIRCLE": This group in particular is very gen-y focused. We're highly digitally literate and highly collaborative. We have grown up in a world we share with our friends, sometimes share with strangers. We are more open to information than any other generation has been before.

O'BRIEN: They are motivated female leaders in the startup world. Caroline Ghosn, Maxine Kay, Uzoamaka Maduka, and Mimi Win. They answered Sheryl Sandberg's call to create a Lean In circle, hoping to support each other and push forward the women's movement.

UZOAMAKA MADUKA, EDITOR AND CO-FOUNDER, "THE AMERICAN READER": I was talking to friends about how the woman's movement we were raised, about how we can do anything and with all of this possibility, but yet the conversation kind of was silence when we went into the working world. One of the issues we have is because we weren't given the tools. In a sense the conversation stalls and I think one of the things I find most important about the Lean In movement is culture affected the level of conversation.

O'BRIEN: They meet for several hours once a month, sometimes using material from and sometimes just to talk and set goals for each other. They call themselves the transitional generation, working within the expectations and rules put forth by the generations before them.

ALISA LEONARD, DIGITAL CONSULTANT: I think the other challenge we have as a culture is for the women leaders, sort of like scions or meteoric rise and all. And you don't see the stumbling blocks and it is a very real part of evolution and growth. I had a friend that was like you are 28, like it is totally fine that you are not running the world right now.


O'BRIEN: Sandberg directed us to the group as an example of how Lean In circles can remake what it means to be a female leader in a man's world.

How important is a woman's personality in being successful?

SANDBERG: So men get to be successful with all different personality types, and I think women do as well.

O'BRIEN: Likability.

SANDBERG: We need diversity of management, diversity of leadership styles. It will make us all better.

O'BRIEN: Carolyn Ghosn formed the Lean In circle, the founder and CEO of Levo, a startup she describes as a linked in for women. She moves the conversation to focus on leadership.

GHOSN: We're not becoming like men looking like men. It validates a very nauseous stereotype. We are here to see how we can apply those identities to being leaders.

SANDBERG: I think sometimes the conversation stops for women because maybe they have hit a door. We haven't yet taught ourselves that it is OK to keep pushing through that.

O'BRIEN: The circle's conversation moves to the issue of guilt, something all of these young women agree is a defining characteristic of their generation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that possible?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whether it is actually going home and having a meal at home which is such a rarity and feeling guilty for leaving the office or more likely the case, that I am at the office and I feel guilty that I haven't like I haven't called my mother back in god knows how long.

MADUKA: I think it is really about communication. I think that you can get to a place where there will be less guilt about it because it will be about having this open sort of communication with everyone in your life.

GHOSN: And that's why the guilt question, my personal belief is that it is just an element of this generation that we're not going to get rid of.

O'BRIEN: They are social, sharing on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, creating what they admit is an edited image of their lives. They talk about struggling with the idea of failure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You create this life that seems just so perfect, and god forbid there be anything imperfect in that world that you create and share.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I sit there and look at all the different things I have to do and I just kind of like, wait, if I actually break down the day like I will fail. I am like --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think as women we have this feeling if we don't do it, if we don't do it perfectly, it is not going to get done at all. And so I definitely find myself taking way too much time to make sure absolutely everything is perfect, staying up really late, being exhausted the next day, whereas I could have just trusted that it would all work out a little bit, gotten myself some sleep and probably --


O'BRIEN: What do you think? Tweet me @Soledad_Obrien. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. For more on that visit

Her name was Heidi and his name was Howard. But they were one in the same. We revisit the study that inspired Sheryl Sandberg's pursuit of gender equality, and get some surprising results.

SANDBERG: Women pay a penalty for success. They pay a penalty for power. They pay a penalty for things considered aggressive in a woman. The trust issue is very real as well. It is often the case that since we expect men to lead, when they lead, we think they're leading for others and it is OK. But when women lead, they're out for themselves.


SANDBERG: The Howard-Heidi study shows what a lot of very deep data shows which is we hold people to our stereotypes of them. So if we stereotype men to be leaders and women to be nurturers, women pay this likability cap. I never knew that until five years ago and I felt it. And every woman I have ever seen learn about that study has said a-ha, and a lot of men have, too.

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. I am Soledad O'Brien. Sheryl Sandberg says when a man is successful, he is well liked and when a woman does well people like her less. Is this really the case? You visit the Heidi/Howard study that inspired Sheryl Sandberg's pursuit of gender equality and get some surprising results.

SANDBERG: Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.

O'BRIEN: It has become a centerpiece of Sheryl Sandberg's talks on workplace inequality, the story of how two groups of business students reviewed the credentials of the same venture capitalist, except one class was told the name was Heidi and the other Howard.

SANDBERG: The good news is the students, men and women, thought Heidi and Howard were equally competent and that's good. The bad news is that everyone liked Howard. He is a great guy. You want to work for him and spend the day fishing with him. But Heidi, not so sure. She is a little out for herself and political.

O'BRIEN: I want to talk about the Howard-Heidi study. You say it shows that what a lot and you said it was the "a-ha moment." Why?

SANDBERG: It shows what a lot of deep data shows is we hold people to stereotypes of them. If we stereotype women to be leaders and women to be nurturers, women have this likability gap.

O'BRIEN: We found the real Heidi Roizen, a venture capitalists raising two children in Silicon Valley. She believes that likability gap is still very real.

ROIZEN: If you look at venture capital or corporate governance, the two things I am involved with today, I am very often the only woman in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Read the case and you will also see a separate form underneath that has questions we would like to you answer about the case.

O'BRIEN: We wanted to find out if the likability gap narrowed so we did the demonstration again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pick out the answer sheet, the six questions.

O'BRIEN: Instead of Heidi and I Howard, the students rated Catherine and Martin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's 8.0 for Katherine. How about Martin? It's 7.6.

O'BRIEN: Ten years later the female executive was seen as more likeable and who would they rather work for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Katherine, 83 percent like to work for Katherine. Martin, 65 percent would.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Again, he comes up short.

O'BRIEN: But when it came to the issue of trust.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seems low. What about Martin?


O'BRIEN: Here is what one woman at the NYU School of Business had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we try to do our best to succeed in business it comes across as trying too hard and we become untrustworthy or something.

SANDBERG: Yes. This is exactly right. I think the success and likability penalty is one of the main things holding women back.

O'BRIEN: Because trust looms larger than any other factor in the eyes of these future business leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it comes to women being successful, I don't think they're as trustworthy as men would be successful. I think men would be -- men tend to seem more genuine and if women become more successful, they have an ulterior motive.

O'BRIEN: A finding the real Heidi found troubling ten years after her own credentials were put to the test.

ROIZEN: That to me is one of those disturbing subtle things. It is fundamentally people are more trusting of people who look and sound and act like them. And so if you're in a room full of men and you're the only woman, there is a different level of trust there until you earn it.

O'BRIEN: Which means any changes in the way the Heidis of the world are perceived will have to include the Howards.

SANDBERG: We have to let women talk about this. I hope men enter the conversation and the controversy around my book because every issue, not just mine, every issue because we need men to talk about this, too, if it is ever going to change.

O'BRIEN: Sheryl Sandberg says men have big incentives to help women succeed. Like what? Coming up we'll ask male CEOs if they see women like Sandberg as an asset or threat.

JOHN CHAMBERS, CEO, CISCO SYSTEMS INC.: Do each of us agree with everything Sheryl said? Of course not and I don't think she would expect us to. But each of us has to realize the way we're doing things today is not getting the job done.

O'BRIEN: Plus Sandberg calls herself lucky in life. Will her Lean In movement be as lucky as she is? We'll take a look at what the future holds for Sandberg and the new feminist movement.

SANDBERG: Life is a series of these moments. We each live them. And I want women to have more choices and I want women to make more explicit decisions.


CHAMBERS: She made me realize two things. First, we were not changing fast enough. We were no longer moving the needle, and if we didn't do things differently, we wouldn't move the needle dramatically over this next decade. And secondly, she is starting a tipping point, an inflection point where if a number of us Lean In, both male and females, we can make a difference both for our country and for each of our companies.

O'BRIEN: That's one male CEO's take on the Sandberg manifesto, but are all male leaders ready to Lean In? Or will they push back instead?

Sheryl Sandberg says she is most surprised men have not jumped into this conversation. Why do you think that is?

JOHN DEMSEY, GROUP PRESIDENT, ESTEE LAUDER INC.: I really don't know if that is really true that men haven't jumped into this conversation. In reading the book and reading Lean In, I think this topic relative to maximizing your own potential in your career and work-family balance is something that men can feel the same way that women can.

O'BRIEN: Mohamed, what's the impact been on you?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CEO AND CO-CIO, PIMCO: It has been huge. It has been a great book at the right time. In terms of the right time, we are big believers we are navigating very fluid global economy and that you need a lot of perspectives to understand what's going on, and that speaks to the business case for inclusiveness and diversity. And along comes Sheryl Sandberg's book with lots of insights and it has increased awareness tremendously within this company.

O'BRIEN: Some of all of that is really, John, about likability, right? Women aren't holding themselves back and Sheryl points it out in the book because they're worried as they will be perceived as non- likeable. Where have you seen changes in your company around that?

DEMSEY: Today there are more and more women that have gone through the MBA ranks and have the educational background and the work background to aspire to having the senior level jobs across our company and across industry in general. O'BRIEN: Mohamed, one criticism I have heard from people who have been critical of the book has been that it only really is worthwhile reading for people who are hoping to aim for the C suite, that if you're talking about a woman working in the lunch room or something like that, maybe not so relevant to her life. Do you think that's a fair criticism?

EL-ERIAN: I don't. I think many of the messages that Sheryl Sandberg speaks to and by the way other people speak to that have looked at unconscious biases is that we humans and women in particular hold themselves back unnecessarily. I see it. I see it in meetings sometimes when I look around the room and you see certain people wishing to speak that can be from a different culture. They can be from a different gender, and they want to say something but they held back. And unless we recognize this behavior, you end up being in a worse off place.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you both with me. Appreciate it.

EL-ERIAN: Thank you for having us.

SANDBERG: My generation is not going to change this problem.

With her book "Lean In" and the Lean In circles she is encouraging young women to create for support, Sheryl Sandberg hopes this generation of women will reignite a movement she says is stalled.

SANDBERG: Lean in is about all of us coming together to understand the stereotypes holding women back and fix that.

O'BRIEN: Getting everything together may prove to be what holds Lean In back.

MARTIN: Working class moms, women who are in entry level positions and corporations earning $35,000, $40,000 a year, a lot of this information is not just going to translate for them.

O'BRIEN: Sandberg says that if Lean In helps more women get to the top, future generations will benefit. With two young children, a seven-year-old boy, and a five-year-old girl, Sandberg currently balances motherhood with ever expanding projects and responsibilities, leaning in more herself.

SANDBERG: I heard from everyone it is harder when your kids get to be teenagers. Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems

O'BRIEN: "Lean In" is sure to sell a lot of books. It is already number one on amazon. After five years at Facebook she still faces challenges. There was last year's disappointing initial public offering, the social network's stock price is still not at its original level. She says she is loyal to the company and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, but she is largely coy about her future.

Five years down the road what are you doing?

SANDBERG: I think I will still be at Facebook. O'BRIEN: Ten years down the road?

SANDBERG: Yes. We'll see, right? I really love my job. I really love --

O'BRIEN: And 15 years down the road.

SANDBERG: Really? I love being a parent. I am not running for office.


DAVID KIRKPATRICK, AUTHOR, "FACEBOOK EFFECT": She says she is not interested in politics and I believe that's what she means, but I don't believe that's necessarily true.

O'BRIEN: David Kirkpatrick is an author that knows Sandberg and has written a book about Facebook.

KIRKPATRICK: She is extraordinarily ambitious and everyone thinks she degraded politics and says in the book don't turn down opportunities that come your way.

O'BRIEN: With the book a guaranteed best seller she hopes this is just the beginning of the conversation.

For more on my interview with Sheryl Sandberg or her book "Lean In," visit our website at

That's it for me. I am Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for watching.