Speaking in a fireside chat with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce in San Francisco, Sandberg – who authored the bestseller book on women at work “Lean In” – said her Foundation is actively trying to get CEOs to recognise the issues for women in the workplace, and talk about it.
She said: “As a CEO if you’re willing to talk about this and address gender head on and say ‘hey, this is an issue’ that concerns women, that’s a competitive advantage.”
The foundation is also encouraging more companies to set up “lean in circles”, groups of 10 or so employees who meet to discuss and mentor each other on the gender issues facing both men and women.
She said there is evidence that people who have mentors perform better in the workplace, but she added it can be difficult getting male leaders and female employees in a room one on one – adding that 64 per cent of managers in the US are afraid to be in a room alone with women.
“We need to make it a badge of honour for men and women to be alone in a room together. Everyone needs to be appropriate. There’s no mentoring that happens in a larger group. We have to make it a badge of honour for people in power to mentor women.”
She also discussed the language associated with confident females – from “bossy” girls in the playground to “aggressive” women in the workplace. She advised leaders that the next time a women is described as being aggressive to “take a deep breath” and ask specific questions.
Later she discussed a trend she has seen recently of CEOs looking to assign more women to the board to address a gender imbalance, which she said could offend some women who are invited and make some people believe women are being given an unfair advantage to fill the quota.
However, Sandberg believes on this occasion an extra advantage is necessary to undo all the “systematic bias” on the “unlevel playing field”.
She said: “I believe if we had more women at the table where decisions are made, we would make better decisions. Companies with more women in senior roles make better decisions.
“Some people ask me: would the world be peaceful [if women were in charge]? I don’t know, let’s try it, it can’t get any worse.”
Although the chat did not cover any of Sandberg’s day job at Facebook, she did say CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked her the question – which subsequently was put up to many of the walls inside Facebook’s HQ – “what would you do if you weren’t afraid”? This referred to the understanding that insecurity is what holds many women back.
She answered that she would “speak out for women” and went on to write Lean In, which was published in March this year.
Sanberg’s comments follow a report by marketing recruitment agency EMR that men are twice as likely to reach the top marketing positions than women.