Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operations officer of the world’s largest social network, knows a thing or two about socialization. So why is it, as she noted to the crowd assembled in New York last night to hear about her new book, Lean In, that we are “socializing our daughters to nurture and our boys to lead?”
In a fireside chat moderated by TIME deputy managing editor Nancy Gibbs, the Facebook executive addressed a small auditorium filled with women and men of all ages, including members of her family and a few famous faces like actress Katie Holmes and finance expert and television host Suze Orman.
There’s a “success and likebility penalty” that women face in the office, said Sandberg. “As [women] get more powerful, they are less liked by men and women.” For men, the opposite is true.
Through her research, Sandberg learned that stereotypes about men and women begin at an early age. For example, in 2011, a clothing manufacturer created a line of onesies that read “pretty like mommy” for baby girls and “smart like daddy” for baby boys.
Sandberg could recite from memory the line her siblings once used to describe her: “To the best of our knowledge Sheryl never actually played as a child, but really just organized other children’s play.”
“You can laugh, it’s funny,” she assured the audience. “But there’s something that’s not funny about that.”
She had said earlier in the evening, “We call our daughters bossy. We almost never call our sons bossy.”
Despite the growing evidence that girls are excelling in school, the things that make girls successful in the classroom, like raising their hands and following the rules, are not the same things that make them successful in their careers, like taking risks.
She said that finding a mentor is difficult for women in part because working relationships can be awkward for members of the opposite sex. “Men are nervous to be alone in a room with a woman,” Sandberg pointed out, but the problem is not impossible to overcome. One employer she knew who was uncomfortable socializing with his female employees at night chose to take all of his employees out to breakfast or lunch instead of dinner.
When it came to the idea of having a “work-life balance” and “having it all,” Sandberg did not seem to be a fan of either phrase, but she did note the importance of having a personal life as well as having compassion for others.
Sandberg was responsible for getting parking spots for pregnant women at Google, but it took her own pregnancy to realize how important that was. “Data show unequivocally that when women are in leadership roles in companies, those companies have better policies,” she said.
What about telecommuting policies?
Said Sandberg, “There are Facebook employees we’ve never met.” The question was asked in reference to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who recently sent her remote employees back to the office, but it’s important to note that Sandberg was not criticizing Mayer directly. In fact, she had defended her in a previous interview.
Sandberg was also careful to include people who don’t have children in the conversation. Single women are just as entitled to leave work on time to go out to a bar to meet other single people as mothers are to leave work to drop their children off at soccer practice, she said.
And when ambitious women are given opportunities to advance in their careers, they shouldn’t “lean back too early,” she said. Single women should take them as they come instead of “leaving room” for their future family, while mothers should try asking their husbands to help out. When Sandberg decided to take the job at Facebook while caring for a six-month-old baby, she recalled,”my husband said he would so more.”