Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Women in the Staffing Industry

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Women in the Staffing Industry

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO Facebook, has taken on a new, public role as an advocate of advancing women’s success in the workplace. Building on a message she has talked about for years, she released a new book this month, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

The book has unleashed a barrage of criticism, knocking Sandberg as elitist, or taking a too simplistic view. But it has also ignited discussion about advancing female leadership into the top C-suites.

Sandberg does not claim to have the complete solution. Instead, she approaches what she sees as one part of the problem: the tendency of women to hold back at work, and not strive for their highest career goals because of a pressure to balance work success and personal fulfillment.

Sandberg describes it in a simple phrase: “Don’t leave before you leave.” Her message is to “lean in;” to volunteer for difficult projects, to speak up at board meetings, and to take career risks without doubting your own abilities. Her argument is simple: “More female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all women.”

The argument is this: because of pressures to balance a career and personal fulfillment, women tend to hold back at the workplace, mentally preparing for the time when they would need to take time off for a pregnancy or to raise a family. We do this without even realizing it, Sandberg says.

This message is not a new one for Sheryl Sandberg. In 2010, she gave a popular TED Talk, “Why we have too few women leaders.” She states it quite simply: “We have a problem. And the problem is this. Women are not making it to the top of any industry, anywhere in the world.”

She cites several statistics. Of the 190 heads of state, nine are women. In parliamentary positions worldwide, 13 percent are female. Corporations: 15-16 percent. And in nonprofits, where women are traditionally thought to have made more progress, they remain at a measly 20 percent.

One analysis by Staffing Industry Analysts, Inc, estimate that of the approximately 17,000 staffing firms in the United States, 39 of them are owned by women. And in terms of worldwide hiring trends, men are still preferred over women (though the numbers are improving) and they are still being paid more.

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