How could she find time to write a book with all she does? She’s a mother! And a wife, not to mention that other thing (Facebook) which she said was “very hard for the first six months. And I know I’m supposed to say ‘challenging’ but it was hard.”
I have always struggled with the concept of “niceness” and I was thrilled that she addressed it head on. I felt that if I was nice, executive men wouldn’t take me seriously. But there was another element. I started working in the 1960’s, the sexually predatory days of “Mad Men” when it was assumed that ambitious women would grant sexual favors in exchange for opportunity. Meaning that in order to get a level playing field, it was hoped that you would put out. Failing to be “nice” eradicated that illusion for executive men. It also eradicated mentoring. But in those days, mentoring by a man often meant… well, putting out.
Sheryl is of a different generation where this sexually predatory element has been mostly exterminated (whew!) but there is still the burden of being called unlikeable if a woman is perceived as decisive or ambitious. She talks at length about how the same behavior in men is admired. She is very uncomfortable with the double-standard, often enforced by other women, and she does more than complain about it. She offers a recipe for dealing with it.
She quotes Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, who recommends combining niceness with insistence. “Be relentlessly pleasant,” by smiling frequently, expressing appreciation and concern, invoking common interests, emphasizing larger goals, and approaching each negotiation as solving a problem as opposed to taking a critical stance.
Sheryl Sandberg also quotes Professor Hannah Riley Bowles who studies gender and negotiations at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and adds to her observations. Professor Bowles has learned that there are two crucial things that women need to do in order to succeed in negotiations. First, women must come across as being nice, concerned about others and “appropriately” female. Taking an instrumental approach, as men do, doesn’t work (This is what I want and deserve).
Second, a woman must provide a legitimate explanation for the negotiation. Men don’t have to legitimize their negotiations, they are expected to look out for themselves. Women, however, have to justify their requests. One way of doing this is to suggest that someone more senior encouraged the negotiation (“My manager suggested… “) or to cite industry standards (“My understanding is that jobs that involve this level of responsibility are compensated in this range”).
Sheryl Sandberg offers a third crucial strategy to negotiating success. “Think personally, act communally,” she advises. Even if you you feel stridently feminist when negotiating your salary in order to get paid the same as the men for the same work, keep in mind that you are negotiating for all women. “And as silly as it sounds, pronouns matter. Whenever possible, women should substitute “we for “I.” A woman’s request will be better received if she asserts, “We had a great year,” as opposed to ‘I had a great year.’ ”
I felt the book had the right balance of self-revelation and personal experience, and guidance from others. I liked the quote from Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology & Strategy Officer of Cisco Systems, and the former CTO of Motorola because it echoes Jeffrey Immelt’s thoughts on the subject. “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
How to deal with people successfully was my favorite part of the book. Sheryl quotes Alice Walker who said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any.”