A titan’s how-to on breaking the glass ceiling

Feb 23 2013, 14:37 IST
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SummaryBefore Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, started to write Lean In, her book-slash-manifesto on women in the workplace, she reread Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Before Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, started to write Lean In, her book-slash-manifesto on women in the workplace, she reread Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Like the homemaker turned activist who helped start a revolution 50 years ago, Sandberg wanted to do far more than sell books.

Sandberg, whose ideas about working women have prompted both enthusiasm and criticism, is attempting nothing less than a Friedan-like feat: a national discussion of a gender-problem-that-has-no-name, this time in the workplace, and a movement to address it.

When her book is published on March 11, accompanied by a carefully orchestrated media campaign, she hopes to create her own version of the consciousness-raising groups of yore: “Lean In Circles,” as she calls them, in which women can share experiences and follow a Sandberg-crafted curriculum for career success. (First assignment: a video on how to command more authority at work by changing how they speak and even sit.)

“I always thought I would run a social movement,” Sandberg said in an interview for Makers, a new documentary on feminist history.

And yet no one knows whether women will show up for Sandberg’s revolution, a top-down affair propelled by a fortune worth hundreds of millions on paper, or whether the social media executive can form a women’s network of her own. Only a single test “Lean In Circle” exists.

With less than three weeks until launch — which will include a spread in Time magazine and splashy events like a book party at Mayor Michael R Bloomberg’s home — organisers cannot say how many more groups may sprout up.

Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder.

Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgments include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?

“I don’t think anyone has ever tried to do this from anywhere even close to her perch,” said Debora L Spar, president of Barnard College, who invited Sandberg to deliver a May 2011 commencement address about gender in the workplace that caught fire online. (Sandberg, who will grant her first book interview to the CBS’s 60 Minutes, declined to

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