Events / Women in tech

Who you marry is your most important career decision: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg stopped in Center City yesterday morning on a book tour for the buzzy "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead." Here's what Technically Philly learned.

Sheryl Sandberg wants to outlaw the word “bossy.”

Next time someone calls your little girl “bossy,” the Facebook COO advised, in a punchline she used on the ‘Daily Show’ too: Say “My daughter has executive leadership skills.”

Sandberg stopped in Center City yesterday morning on a book tour for the buzzy “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” The event, held at the Hyatt at the Bellevue on South Broad Street, was packed — more than 1,000 people registered, a spokeswoman said — and yes, the audience appeared to be mostly women.

Sandberg was charismatic and funny, often causing widespread laughter. Her talk felt confessional:  Yes, I’ve been divorced, she said. And I’m OK. She even shouted out the local nonprofit TechGirlz, while talking about how to increase the number of women involved in computer science.

Sheryl Sandberg at Center City's Hyatt at the Bellevue yesterday. Photo by Clem Murray for Sheryl Sandberg at Center City’s Hyatt at the Bellevue yesterday. Photo by Clem Murray for

Here are a few points that stood out to us.

  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid? It’s written on a poster at Facbook HQ and one of Sandberg’s most quoted soundbytes, but it also sounds a lot like the startup maxim “Fail fast.” Women have the “holy trinity of fear,” she said to much laughter, “being a bad wife, mother and daughter.” Failing is OK, she said, use her first marriage, which ended in divorce, as an example.
  • “Who you marry is the single most important career decision you make,” she said. Sandberg’s point is that a woman can’t succeed without a supportive partner, but the extreme nature of the statement had some on Twitter raising their (Twitter) eyebrows.
  • “Don’t wait for a mentor to excel,” Sandberg wrote in her book. “Excel and you’ll get a mentor.” Sandberg encouraged women to find mentors by offering to help those people, not by simply asking someone you admire to play that role. “Mentorship is a two-way relationship,” she said.
  • Sandberg didn’t acknowledge or respond to any questions, if there were any (they were submitted via local real-time Q&A software Yorn), about the critiques surrounding her book. Read one here by PhillyMag senior editor Sandy Hingston and another one from a former Facebook employee. Sandberg almost did not allow press at the event, according to a spokeswoman from the Arts & Business Council, which co-organized the event with the Free Library and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
  • Ditch the phrases “work-life balance” and “having it all,” she said, because they’re only used to refer to women. –Something else male Technically Philly followers on Twitter countered.
  • Bosses should openly talk about the issues that working women face, Sandberg said, instead of pretending they don’t exist.
  • What is holding women back from leadership positions is the same thing that’s holding them back from computer science: “stereotype threat,” the sociological term that means that if women are made to think that they don’t make good leaders or programmers, they’ll believe it and turn away from those roles.

The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Karen Heller‘s recap is here and WHYY’s Maiken Scott’s is here.

Companies: Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia / Facebook / Free Library of Philadelphia / Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia

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