Rule Breakers

Sheryl Sandberg Still Wants You To Lean In

"Men need to be doing their share and unfortunately we are not seeing that with coronavirus."

Jerod Harris, Mirage, Kilito Chan/Getty

"I think we have a man," Sheryl Sandberg says of the staffing breakdown at her Lean In foundation. "We did a diverse slate approach to get one. Isn't it funny?" The foundation's sixth annual report, released today in partnership with McKinsey, tells a less rosy story about the position of women in the workplace. "This report is truly alarming because it says everything we've suspected before, but didn't have the data to prove," she tells Bustle, citing evidence that millions of women are considering leaving the workplace in 2020. "Men need to be doing their share and unfortunately we are not seeing that with coronavirus."

Below, Sandberg explains how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women of color, why we all need to take more vacation days, and whether the culture of "lean in" still has a place during a global pandemic.

Talk us through the report's key findings.

No one's experiencing business as usual during coronavirus, but the report shows that women have been affected by far the most. More than one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce. This means that up to two million women could leave their jobs, wiping out all the progress that we have fought so hard for. Women were already working a double shift, but this survey says that women are doing 20 hours more than men in the home a week. 20 hours a week is half of a full-time job.

Senior-level women are feeling intense pressure. We've always promoted men on the basis of potential, and promoted women on the basis of what they've already proven. For every 100 men who get promoted to manager, we're promoting 72 women overall and 58 black women. That's because you can't prove you're a good manager until someone lets you be a manager. But that's the drop-off, and all of this is getting way worse with coronavirus.

This pandemic is also hitting communities of color much harder. Black women are more likely than other employees to feel excluded and feel like they can't be themselves at work, and so I think, this is a moment, right? There's that famous quote about not wasting a crisis. We have a health crisis, we have an economic crisis, and we can either lose the bulk of the women that have been in the workforce, or, we could take this moment to remake work and make it work for parents and make it work for children.

"Lean in" never meant work all the time.

When COVID-19 hit, what did you do support women and parents in your role at Facebook?

We recognized from the beginning that this pandemic was different. We understood that people weren't going to be able to work while taking care of their kids at home, doing school with their kids, doing the same things they did before. We canceled our performance cycle for the first half of the year, along with giving extra people leave, and we paid everyone out at more than a hundred percent of their bonus because we said we want you to know that we believe what we're saying.

The report makes clear that the challenges for women of colour are more acute than they are for white women. How do you advise supporting those women?

We recommend real action and allyship. Even if it's on Zoom, if a woman gets interrupted, if a woman of color gets interrupted, and you as a man or another woman can say, “you know what, we just interrupted Rachel. I'd like her to finish what she's saying.” Or if the promotions look off and disproportionate, wouldn't it be nice if someone else said, “I think that woman can get promoted.”

The report points to burnout as the primary cause of women leaving the workplace in 2020. How do you reconcile that with the spirit of "lean in"?

Well, "lean in" never meant work all the time. The book is very clear. Lean In is about balancing what we want to do as parents, as human beings, and what we want to do at work. One of the strongest arguments Lean In made, and I made it to my original TED talk, is that … men need to be doing their share [at home]. And unfortunately, we are not seeing that.

If one in four women leave your company and downshift their careers, you're losing an incredibly important part of the talent pool.

What would you say to a woman who is on the brink of calling her company and quitting?

Well, this report is giving advice to the companies to take action before that happens. It's not for her [to fix]. She's doing everything she can. I want to say to the companies, don't let this happen. If one in four women leave your company and downshift their careers, you're losing an incredibly important part of the talent pool and it's one you're not likely to get back.

What has your experience been like working from home in a pandemic?

I'm working from home and listen, that line between work and home it's blurred. It's very hard for people to take personal time off. I've been urging everyone to take it. I did not do a good job doing it this summer, because before, if you're out of the office on vacation, you don't call in for a meeting. But you're not there for a meeting now wherever you are, so even if you try and take a vacation day, it's so easy to call in for that meeting. And so I recognize that I need to do better making sure the people around me take days off and find time off for myself as well.

Lean In was first published in 2013 and we're now living in a very different world. I wonder, would you still call the book Lean In in 2020?

Well, I would still call it Lean In, even though I would try to help people understand what that means. I think there were things that we missed in the book and we put out a second edition, Lean In: For Graduates, which had much more explicit parts for women of color. But yes, I would still call it Lean In. I believe everything I wrote in that book.