March 7 2013

Sheryl Sandberg Is Right

Jennifer Marsico

Is so-called feminism really tolerant of creating opportunities for women? I have my doubts.

 

If you haven’t yet done so, check out Sabrina Schaeffer’s latest Forbes piece, about the feminist left’s attacks on female corporate leaders like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.  As a young woman with a career, these criticisms make zero sense to me.  Let’s take the Sandberg example—what sin did she commit against women in the workplace? She had the audacity to say that women should be able to negotiate their own salaries and to be treated the same in business dealings as men are.

Well, Joanne Bamberger writes in USA Today that Sandberg’s arguments are akin to saying that “equality in the workplace just requires women to pull themselves up by the Louboutin straps.”  This line implies that women are treated with a distinct bias in the workplace. But the polls simply don’t bear this out.  Women don’t face bias in terms of whether or not they should work: an April 2012 CNN/ORC poll found that 97 percent of American approve of “a married woman holding a job in business or industry if her husband is able to support her.” In fact, slightly more men than women agreed with that statement. 

How about in the workplace—how big of a problem is gender discrimination, and how are companies dealing with it?  Interestingly, there have been few major polls that have asked about this.  But here’s an interesting 2005 report from Gallup, all about perceived discrimination in the workplace.  Of the 15 percent of Americans who have reported some form of discrimination in the workplace, about a quarter of these were based on gender.  And among the biggest issues which caused the perceived discrimination was that the person discriminated against did not received the pay they felt they deserved.

So back again to Sandberg: if what she supports are more women negotiating their own salaries, then why is she getting attacked by women who call themselves feminists? Clearly, there are many women who feel they deserve to earn more money.  But while 57 percent of men negotiate their first salary out of college, only 7 percent of women do so. Sandberg is telling women they have it within their own power to help even up the playing field—I simply do not understand why some women would criticize her for saying so.

Sandberg says that “women systematically underestimate their own abilities.” And perhaps the reason for that is that women like Bamberger are telling us it is the system that is working against us, that there is nothing we can do about it.  While there may be aspects of the workplace that women cannot change, it is completely unhelpful to play the victim card. Kudos to Sandberg for trying to encourage women to change the things they can, especially in the face of other women who say there’s no way.

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