Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

December 21, 2010

I just found this video of COO Facebook Sheryl Sandberg’s talk at TED over at WeeklyLeader. She said some things you don’t hear very often about the challenges women face in the workforce. It is an exceptional video with what I think is a very important message.

I sent the link to my daughter and encouraged her to watch it. I intend to show it in all my MBA classes on Organizational Behavior starting next semester.

I’m not going to give you the sound bites. Sheryl deserves for YOU to watch this video and care about what she is saying.

After you watch the video, please share your thoughts below. I’d love to know what you think.

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Comments (14)

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  1. Bret

    Thanks so much for sharing. It nearly brought me to tears. With 3 girls I would love to see them take up their role in society where they can be fulfilled and not feel constrained by the ghost of previous generations but I fear they have a mountain to climb. Watching videos like this inspires me to believe.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I had a very similar reaction, Julian. I see tremendous potential in my daughter. I want to become increasingly aware of how my behavior toward her enhances or constrains her ability to be successful at whatever she chooses to do. Via my role as a professor, I want to increase awareness of this issue. We did not create the way things are, but we have a responsibility to see them for what they are and work to make things better. Thanks! Bret

  2. Gwyn Teatro says:

    Thank you, Bret. This is a powerful message that both women and men would do well to consider.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Concur, Gwyn. Thanks! Bret

  3. Catherine Davis says:

    Wow Bret. Fantastic video. I’m going to use this in my courses as well.

    One message that sticks with me is how women attribute their success to others while men most often take credit themselves. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself as I don’t want to be seen as arrogant; yet, I have also been passed over for opportunities because I have not blown my own horn. Or maybe, I didn’t keep my hand raised. Lots of great nuggets to pass on to both students, but also to my children. Thanks again for posting!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Catherine. I find it alarming how easily we accept and ourselves enact behaviors that disable others. Will be interesting to see how students react to the video when I start showing it in class. Thanks! Bret

  4. Hi Bret,

    I have to echo Julian’s statement in regards to my own daughters. Although they are still young, I’m already making sure that they do take their accomplishments as their own and to feel a sense of achievement from them. I personally still find it odd when people congratulate my wife and me for their successes in school, as if we were the ones doing their tests. If anyone deserves those accolades, it’s my daughters.

    Sure, I’m proud of my daughters and of how well they are performing in school. At the same time, though, I recognize that my part is limited to being driver who makes sure they get where they need to go as the journey needs to uniquely be their own.

    This is also an important reminder that while we can legislate organizations to include more women at the table, women themselves need to take responsibility for stepping up and taking a seat. That alone would make a sizeable difference in how men might perceive women because women are willing to admit that yes, they not only belong there, but that they have something of value to share.

    Thanks again for sharing this, Bret.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I think you are right, Tanveer. But both women and men have to understand what to take responsibility for, which is why an evidence-based presentation like this one is so effective. Thanks, Tanveer! Bret

  5. Bruce Lynn says:

    This important topic almost lost me at minute 1:20 with her profoundly sexist comment “We also have another problem which is that women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfillment.”

    What?? Who says that a woman’s dilemma for ‘personal fulfilment’ is any more severe than a man’s. The implication here is ‘women face harder choices between investing time and energy in professional success and investing time and energy into raising a family.’ As long as women themselves foster this sexist notion that ‘raising a family’ means more to women than to men, the more they will be perpetuating a sexist world in which they end up share in the suffering. The people who suffer are the women who want to more professional success and the men who want to raise a family (but are precluded from doing so just as much by these sexists perspectives).

    While Sandberg’s points about women’s self-impeding attitudes are sound, it is issue of ‘raising a family’ that has a huge impact on impeding careers these days, not one’s gender. I am confident that if you did a study of men who took time off to raise a family, you would find similar disparities between their career advancement and incomes relative to other men (and women) who chose not to. This is less and less a gender issue (though, yes, some sexist attitudes persist), and more and more a lifestyle/workstyle issue that affects both genders. Her section on “Real Partners” starts to address and acknowledge this serious issue.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Bruce! I appreciate your comment – really made me think. I think her point was that women face these dilemmas more than men. They are exposed more to this problem than men. And of course men don’t have to deal with the time problem of actually carrying a child and then dealing with those first few months of raising the child. It’s just different for professional women with families. I don’t think it’s sexist to point that out. I think it’s unproductive to ignore or discount it. Thanks, Bruce! Bret

  6. Bruce Lynn says:

    I get the distinctly female issue of time off for delivery and early raising of newborns. But I don’t get the ‘women faces these dilemmas more than men’. Can you provide an example of a scenario/situation that women face either exclusively or more frequently where they have to handle the dilemma of professional success versus personal fulfilment?

    I think it is unproductive to foster sexist perspectives. Then women get blamed for the problem when the issue is really a universal one. Perhaps if companies appreciated that it was more than a ‘woman issue’, they might invest more into fixing the root causes and make it easier for women to both progress and manage the dilemmas.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Maybe I don’t understand sexism. In my profession, we have this grueling seven year career hurdle called making tenure. It is not uncommon for female assistant professors to put off having a family until after they make tenure. I never gave it a second thought. Your point about fixing root causes is right on, Bruce. Thanks! Bret

  7. Tiffany Brown says:

    Can I take one of your classes again next semester when I come back to school with a 9-month old baby at home, and full time job on the side? 🙂

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Wow, you are really slacking, Tiffany. Congrats on the child! Thanks, Bret