“What advice do you have for women working to launch a new business, in terms of discrimination they may face in receiving funding?”
That was the question posed to Sheryl Sandberg at last weekend’s forum on women’s economic opportunity hosted by Stanford Law, LeanIn.org, and the Hamilton Project. The Facebook chief operating officer and LeanIn.org founder had an answer even she didn’t want to give.
“I want to be clear, I’m about to give advice that I don’t want to give, because I don’t want these biases to exist. But the best way to get rid of these biases is to get women to negotiate well …” she began.
“If you are negotiating for a raise and you are a man, you can walk in and say ‘I deserve this.’ That will not backfire on you. We know the data says it will backfire on a woman. So I think along with saying ‘I deserve this,’ [women should iterate] that, you know, ‘This is important for [my] performance,’ and ‘This will make [me] more effective as a team member.'”
In short, Sandberg’s advice to women was to learn how to leverage themselves more as assets to the company or organization as a whole, instead of focusing solely on their performance and accomplishments.
These comments, as Sandberg herself realizes, highlight the clear, sexist mindset about women in the workforce that unfortunately still permeates professional environments. Her answer is a clear perpetuation of an existing stereotype about women being the caretakers of a group or organization. It's expected for them to care about the company as a whole, as opposed to being recognized for their individual work and what they themselves can accomplish. And it’s an especially detrimental trope in that it continues to allow men to pursue leadership positions while remain women in the background, keeping the organization moving from the sidelines.
Sandberg acknowledges that it is vital that men get on board with this type of team-mentality negotiation style, as well. But in the short term, in order for women to achieve equality with men in the workforce, it’s vital that they master the kinds of negotiation skills that are required to advance, sexist though they may be.
It’s not right, but these skills will give professional women the power to play the game on the same level that their male counterparts do. And in the end, this evolution will give them the boost they need to take charge in the workforce the way they were always meant to.