Sheryl Sandberg: The Problem With the Way We Treat Girls

Sheryl Sandberg

In session two of the Global Leadership Summit, Sheryl Sandberg addresses the gap in leadership between men and women. Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, shares she never thought of herself as a leader while she was growing up, and this fact points to a subtle bias that she feels needs to change in our society.

“I don’t think we encourage young girls to think of themselves as leaders and I think that needs to change,” Sandberg says.

Next time you see a little girl being called bossy, Sandberg says, tell the people saying that, “That little girl’s not bossy—that little girl has executive leadership skills.” If you chuckled after reading that line (as the audience did when she said it at the conference), this is exactly Sandberg’s point.

Why, she asks, is it a joke when the child in that scenario is a girl, but if the child had been a bossy boy, would we still laugh? This example points to the subtle biases our society holds about women and girls. For instance, women are expected to do the majority of the housework, even if they have a full-time job.

Sandberg shares about a time when she dropped her son off at school wearing a blue shirt. His blue shirt may have been insignificant any other day, but this particular day happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, which the school-drop-off volunteer not so kindly reminded Sandberg of. Sandberg feels if her husband had been the one to drop their son off, he wouldn’t have been looked down upon, rather applauded for dropping his kid off. “We blame women for not doing housework and childcare perfectly and we applaud men for doing any of it,” Sandberg explains.

These biases don’t just apply to childcare and housework; they also seep into the corporate world. Sandberg says only 5 percent of women hold the leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies and less than 25 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress. Sandberg has seen this firsthand over her years in high-level positions at some of the world’s most influential companies.

After graduating from college, Sandberg had hope that her generation would be the one to make things equal, but the older she got, the more she realized it wasn’t happening.

It was this realization that prompted Sandberg to write her groundbreaking work Lean In. She began asking, “What are the things that are holding women back?” The driving force behind the work was Sandberg’s desire for an equal world—one where men, women, and people of every ethnicity and socio-economic status are treated equally.

“We can’t become what we can’t see,” Sandberg says. Meaning, without women in leadership, our girls won’t have role models.

Whether you belong to a denomination that ordains women or not, what does your church do to encourage the women in your congregation to fulfill their specific callings? What examples are you giving the young girls in your midst?

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