Facebook COO Sandberg (ranked fifth in Forbes’ 2011 list of the most powerful women in the world) reveals how gender discrimination still operates against her and other less-fortunate women.
When she learned about the list, she reports, “I felt embarrassed and exposed.” Even in her position, she still felt the pressure of social conditioning, the expectation that women should subordinate themselves to men. Taking examples from her own experience, Sandberg shows how expected gender roles work against women seeking top jobs, even though they now earn “63 percent of the master’s degrees in the United States.” Not only are women forced to juxtapose family and job responsibilities, but they face more subtle pressures. From early childhood, females are discouraged from being assertive. “Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct,” writes the author. While it is assumed that men who are committed to their families can have successful careers, for women, the choices are more difficult due to the fact that they will usually be the primary caregivers. The failure of social provisions—extended family leave, flexible working hours, etc., which are the norm in many European countries—make life especially difficult for middle-income families (and single parents) due to the high cost of good child care. Women internalize this, frequently making career decisions to accommodate their expectation of the demands that will be imposed by having a family in the future. In Sandberg’s case, this involved rejecting a desirable international fellowship. She argues the need for a redefinition of gender roles so that men expect to share primary responsibility for child care, parents receive social support to accommodate work and family responsibilities, and stereotyping of male and female behavior is recognized as pernicious.
A compelling case for reforms that support family values in the continuing “march toward true equality.”