3 Takeaways from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” Tour

4/5/13Follow @gthuang

I haven’t read all of Sheryl Sandberg’s book yet. I’m not on Facebook. Also, I’m a man.

That makes me a perfect commentator for her “Lean In” book tour, which hit Boston this week. Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, spoke to a crowd of several hundred entrepreneurs, investors, and startup/marketing folks at the Harvard Club of Boston on Comm. Ave. this morning. The event was organized by the New England Venture Capital Association (thanks to C.A. Webb, Jo Tango, and others), with help from the local innovation community. Marketing startup HubSpot had a particularly big presence at the breakfast talk, with something like a hundred employees there.

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, the premise of “Lean In” is that the percentage of women in top business leadership positions has stagnated over the past 10 years. Sandberg tries to get to the root of the issue, chipping away at pervasive gender stereotypes and attitudes, and trying to empower both women and men to have open discussions so they can make decisions that will be better for both business and societal/gender balance.

Here are three highlights from Sandberg’s remarks:

1. “Startups can make their own rules,” she said. “The rules out there aren’t that good.” She was reminding the innovation-focused crowd that if you work in a young company, you have license to do things differently—whether it’s management, flex time, or generally being provocative. “You are creating the future,” she said. (She also recounted a discussion she had with Mark Zuckerberg in which he told her not to worry about making everyone happy, because that doesn’t change the status quo.)

2. “No one is more efficient and effective than a mother.” Sandberg was talking about the difficulties women entrepreneurs face when dealing with VCs who have the attitude (or even say openly) that “I’m only backing you if you’re not having a baby.” She implored investors and top executives to support women and their lifestyle choices—and to be open about creating a dialogue and making access to mentorship equal to what’s available for men.

3. “Look at yourself first.” She was talking about how to be a good boss (but it also applies more broadly). If you’re got an underperforming employee, say, first ask what you can do better, what help you should be providing, before seeking change from your employee. “Help them and get out of the way,” she said.

One more thing: “At the end of the day,” she said, “the people who can most help women reach their opportunities are women.”

It’s not often that I feel self-conscious as a man at a tech event. But it was a good feeling.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://twitter.com/geshwiler James Geshwiler

    Greg: add to the list that it’s OK to talk about gender issues. Whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with her specific advice, granting permission to discuss these issues is probably her biggest contribution. Her point about general counsel advising her not to discuss gender issues really resonated; lawyers and fear of litigation have exacerbated the problem. Great talk today!

  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    @James…I like that! All change starts with discussion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasmine.watts Jasmine Watts

    I read the book myself and absolutely loved it. But I am a woman and interpreted it from a different perspective. I also wrote a review discussing the point she speaks about regarding overcoming fear. You can read my review here: http://www.missmillmag.com/2013/04/why-we-should-all-lean-in/