Business TED Talks

Further reading (and watching) on women and the workplace

Posted by:
Sheryl Sandberg shakes hands with Pat Mitchell, who urged her to talk about women and leadership at TEDWomen in 2010. The talk became her book, Lean In. Photo: Kristoffer Heacox

Sheryl Sandberg shakes hands with Pat Mitchell, who urged her to talk about women and leadership at TEDWomen in 2010. The talk became Sandberg’s book, Lean In. Photo: Kristoffer Heacox

During an interview at TEDWomen 2013, host Pat Mitchell asked Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to explain how her 2010 TED Talk evolved.

Sheryl Sandberg: So we leaned in ... now what? Sheryl Sandberg: So we leaned in ... now what? “I asked myself the question that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and my boss, asks all of us, which is: What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” Sandberg said. Her answer: “I would get on the TED stage and talk about women and leadership. And I did. And survived.”

And let’s be honest, she didn’t just survive. Her talk has been viewed more than 3 million times so far. It spawned a best-selling book, Lean In. In fact, with her talk, Sandberg launched a full-scale movement Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders : there are now over 12,000 “Lean In Circles,” essentially support groups for working women, across 50 countries. “I’m grateful, I’m honored, I’m happy,” says Sandberg. “And it’s the very beginning.”

In today’s talk, Sandberg reveals that friends thought she’d be ending her career by talking about women and leadership publicly, and that she had to be nudged to put anything personal in her talk. To hear this — and why Sandberg thinks we should ban the word “bossy” — watch the talk. And below, a collection of writing on women and the workplace to take in along with Sandberg’s new talk.

  1. A good place to start, of course, is with Lean In, the 2013 book that grew out of Sheryl Sandberg’s talk. In the book, she delves more deeply into both the personal and the larger cultural aspects of her argument that women shouldn’t leave their jobs mentally before they actually have to leave. “Sandberg’s advice to young women to be more ambitious, which can sound like a finger-wagging admonishment when taken out of context, is framed here in more encouraging terms,” Anne-Marie Slaughter writes in the New York Times Book Review. “Most important, Sandberg is willing to draw the curtain aside on her own insecurities. She describes the many times in her career when she was deeply unsure of herself, and the uncertainty that has never entirely gone away.”
  2. Speaking of Anne-Marie Slaughter, her 2012 article in The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” is another seminal part of the recent women-in-business conversation. Anne-Marie Slaughter: Can we all "have it all"? Anne-Marie Slaughter: Can we all "have it all"? Like Sandberg, Slaughter movingly portrays the challenges she’s faced in her high-powered career. Slaughter explains that she believed that women could have it all, but has found that she has had to make many compromises along the way. In her piece, she offers several suggestions for how the workplace could be made more hospitable to women. Slaughter gave a fantastic talk expanding on her ideas at TEDGlobal 2013: “Can we all ‘have it all?’” In this powerful talk, she shares how it will take large shifts in work culture, public policy and social mores to change the status quo — but that this will have incredible payoffs for both men and women.
  3. Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College, agrees that women cannot have it all. In her 2013 book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, she argues that this quest for perfection—for “it all”—has been damaging for women, setting up unrealistic and in fact impossible expectations.
  4. In a piece for New York Magazine’s “The Cut” entitled We’re All Bystanders to the Sandberg-Mayer Mommy Wars,” Ann Friedman points out that everyone deserves a healthy work-life balance, not just women with children. “I want all working women to have opportunities — and all working men to have life balance, too — but have caught myself thinking, why is it easier to ask me to work during my three-day weekend than it is to demand my co-worker check e-mail while on vacation with her kids?” Friedman writes. “‘Work-life balance’ has become synonymous with ‘upper-class working moms,’ and that’s a problem for everyone.”
  5. A decade ago, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever were already puzzling over one stark gender divide: the difference between men and women’s salaries. In their compelling academic book, Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, Babcock, a professor of economics, and Laschever, a writer, argue that the discrepancy stems from the fact that while men often negotiate their salaries up, women tend to take what they’re given—which, over time, can bloom into a huge monetary differential.
  6. Finally, read (and watch) Sheryl Sandberg’s 2011 commencement speech at Barnard College. “I truly believe that only when we get real equality in our governments, in our businesses, in our companies and our universities, will we start to solve this generation’s central moral problem, which is gender equality,” Sandberg says. “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”