Not even Sheryl Sandberg, the poster-woman for career success, can escape patronising attitudes from men. In a Q&A session after delivering the keynote address at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in America, Sandberg recounted a story about attending another conference, where she shared a stage with two men in a discussion about women in the tech industry.
“After I spoke, the first man said, ‘Most women aren’t like Sheryl. She’s very competent. Most women can’t do what she does,'” Facebook’s COO said. “The second man didn’t want to be out done. He said, ‘I’d like to hire more women, but my wife is afraid I might sleep with them. And I might’ … I held it together, for which I was quite proud.”
Those attitudes, and the bias inherent in them, explain why progress for women in most industries around the world has flat-lined. In her keynote speech Sandberg says to address the gender imbalances it’s vital that both men and women start talking about these issues.
“We have made gender an unsafe issue,” she said during the Q&A session. “Women don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid they’ll look like they’re whining and creating issues. Men don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble… If we talk about it, we can deal with it.”
In her speech the Lean In author explained that women still aren’t getting paid at the same rates as men, aren’t receiving the same promotions and career opportunities and aren’t achieving the same career satisfaction. She says a lot of this comes down to gender biases that permeate the corporate world.
“If we could get more women into leadership roles we would stop reacting negatively because it would just become expected.”
Getting more women into leadership roles is was one way to address these gender biases. And men aren’t solely responsible for bias. Sandberg says it’s a self-perpetuating problem because women continue to underestimate themselves. While men are able to acknowledge success based on their own skill and merit, women tend to credit their success to hard work, help from others and just getting lucky.
Men also aren’t made to feel guilty about working because they are rarely questioned about choosing between a home life and a working life.
In this regard Sandberg says that women in particular need to support each other to drown out the negativity. She says women are the best inspiration for other women and need to support each other and acknowledge gender biases in order to eliminate them.
Click here to view the full panel with Sheryl Sandberg, Maria Klawe and Telle Whitney at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing