When a Woman in Tech Opens Her Mouth - Sheryl Sandberg

5 minute read
Virginia Backaitis avatar

Too often when a woman in tech opens her mouth, she gets slammed.

God forbid that she:

  • has some well-founded advice to share with women who want to reach the C-suite
  • changes a policy in order to try to save her company
  • wants to run for political office to make the world a better place
  • says that it’s probably OK if Mom’s not waiting at the door with milk and cookies when the kid gets home from school

This list goes on. 

Don't like these women's ideas or the changes in policy they're implementing?

Pay them no mind.

Blaze your own trail. Rally against the government for not having better policies to support working women. Do something to make your world a better place.

Do anything but sit around and complain.

Be the change.

And while every woman, and man for that matter, will build their careers and impact their employers, their families and their worlds in different ways, gaining insights from another's journey is always worth considering.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer and former Googler, Sheryl Sandberg has written a book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. It's part manifesto, part instruction manual that motivates and guides females who want to lead, to step-up to new challenges, and to claim their places in boardrooms.

Here are ten things we gleaned from Sandberg's book that women (and men) who want to lead might find useful:

1. When you're looking for quick career growth, find a job on a "rocket ship"

According to Sandberg, a “rocket ship” is a quickly growing company, division or department where there are more things to do than people to do them. Not only does this set-up allow you to expand your skill set, but to also make a very visible impact. And, Sandberg adds, a rising tide lifts all boats meaning you can get ahead more quickly in an organization that's in high-growth mode.

If you're offered a job at such a company, don't worry too much about the job title or scope, says Sandberg. Consider the advice that she got from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt when she was leaning toward turning his job offer down. “If you're offered a job on a rocket ship, you don't ask what seat. You just get on.”

2. Focus on helping to solve (or solving) your employer's biggest problem rather than on your own growth

The latter will take care of itself. “This is not just thinking communally -- the expected and often smart choice for a woman -- but simply good business,” says Sandberg.

Learning Opportunities

3. Accept and embrace uncertainty in your professional life, otherwise you might sacrifice getting ahead

In business being risk averse can be underrated, says Sandberg, because the price of stability is often diminished opportunities for growth.

4. The quickest way to the top might look more like a jungle gym than a career ladder

There’s only one way to climb a ladder. There are many ways to the top of a jungle gym. If your professional growth has stalled, don't sit at a lower wrung of a ladder staring at your boss' butt. Look for other opportunities, inside and outside of your organization that will allow you to make a visible impact or learn new skills.

And don't let the job title or compensation hold you back. It's shortsighted to think that moving straight “up” is the only way to get to the top, says Sandberg. Reaching your intended destination could require moving sideways, down or even to a new division or employer now. You'll learn something new and, in turn, become more valuable, which creates more opportunity for you to reach the top.

5. A lack of confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy - so fake it until you feel it

Feeling confident, or pretending to feel confident, can go a long way when you're reaching for something.For example, if no one is “calling” on you when you have your hand up, don't give up. Keep your hand up; it’s the best way to show others that you have something of value to say.

6. Avoid unnecessary sacrifice; a high level job and spending time with your family don't have to be mutually exclusive

If you want to eat dinner with your kids, (or anyone else who has time constraints) ask to make arrangements so that you can leave work and then catch up on work later the same day.

7. “Done is better than perfect”

It's a Facebook motto that Sandberg has embraced, she says it has allowed her to let go of unattainable standards. “Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best, and paralysis at worst,” she explains. Focus on what’s achievable.

8. Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done, exactly right, is a recipe for disappointment.

Go for perfection only where it is absolutely a must.

9. Drop the self-criticism and the guilt trip.

Speaking of how she balances her roles as corporate executive and mother, Sandberg says: “When I remember that no one can do it all and I identify my real priorities at home and at work, I feel better, and I am more productive at work and probably a better mother as well.”

10. Lean In.

“The time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives, not before, and certainly not years in advance” says Sandberg. So for most of us, while we're sitting at our desks, in a meeting or working on a project, it's time to lean in.