The Superwoman’s Guide To Work

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Stylist Team
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Facebook’s COO – and 10th most powerful woman in the world* – Sheryl Sandberg shares her 10 rules for the workplace, exclusively for Stylist

Photos: Norman Jean Roy/ and Rex Features

Sheryl Sandberg recounts a story where, having heard some hurtful rumours about herself at work, she brings them up in front of her boss, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and ends up crying. He gives her a hug, she feels soothed, and at the moment where most of us would feel a little vulnerable, and would hope the emotional episode would never be mentioned again, Sheryl Sandberg decides to tell the whole world.

It’s a brave strategy, this exposure of her everyday work issues which, for Facebook’s chief operations officer, seem prosaic. For while Sandberg is responsible for Facebook’s sales, marketing, HR, communications and business development, reportedly owns $1.2bn (£780 million) of Facebook shares and in 2012, was ranked number 10 on “the world’s 100 most powerful women” list by Forbes magazine, it appears she’s not above having a bad day at the office.

But Sandberg’s honest vignettes are for purposes far greater than reminding us Superwoman doesn’t actually exist. She’s on a mission to show us all that women don’t have to mimic men to get ahead at work; that traditionally female characteristics such as emotion and empathy should be valued outside as well as inside the home and that now companies have to flex and bend to accommodate female workers just as female workers have to stop operating solely in the rigid roles prescribed to them by the last generation.

These themes are the essence of her new book Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead and they come from years of Sandberg trying to manage both her role as a mother (she has two children aged seven and five to husband David Goldberg) and a hugely successful businesswoman, because at just 43, Sandberg has a wealth of experiences from which to draw. She graduated from Harvard in economics in 1991 (picking up the John H Williams Prize for getting top marks in her year) and gained her Harvard Business School MBA four years later (again with the highest distinction). She then worked as the chief of staff for the United States Department of the Treasury, moved to Google to take on the role of vice president of global online sales and operations and finally made her jump to Facebook in 2008, and is credited with making the social network profitable, just two years later.

So, yes, while she’s fiercely bright and handsomely remunerated, she’s an ambitious woman who has struggled and succeeded. Naturally, we were delighted when she agreed to write her top 10 tips exclusively for Stylist on how to manage the elusive work/life balance. It’s not what traditional hard-nosed female bosses do, but it is how Sheryl Sandberg operates – and she’s close enough to Superwoman for us.

1. Fortune favours the bold

“In general, women need to be more open to taking risks. For example, an internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100% of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60% of the requirements. Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that— and I’ll learn by doing it.’”

2. Negotiate …but know what works

“A professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government believes that women can increase their chances of achieving a successful negotiation by coming across as concerned about others; and providing a legitimate explanation for the negotiation. Men don’t need to do either of these things since they are expected to look out for themselves. Women do better when they substitute ‘we’ for ‘I’ (ie stating ‘We had a great year,’ as opposed to ‘I had a great year’). Women also do better when they justify their request (ie ‘My manager suggested I talk with you about my compensation.’)”

3. If others say you’re “difficult” It’s probably not you, it’s them

“In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace. The results showed that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. This attitude is hard to combat, but discussing gender bias openly, especially during peer reviews, may at least get people to think twice before they describe a female colleague as ‘really good at her job but not that well-liked by her peers.’ (Sound familiar?)”

4. Date bad boys; marry good men

“I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. So date the bad boys, the crazy boys, the commitment-phobic boys, but when the time comes to settle down, find someone who wants to be a supportive and equal partner. (I give the same advice to men: date the crazy girls, but choose an equal partner.)”

5. Don’t leave before you leave

“After hiring over 1,000 people and watching their careers develop, I’ve noticed that women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family. By the time they actually do have a family, they are often in a job that doesn’t excite or challenge them. Anyone lucky enough to have options should keep them open. Don’t put on the brakes. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made.”

6. Make your partner a real partner

“In the last 30 years, women have made more progress in the workforce than in the home. In the United Kingdom, women do about twice as much child-care and housework as men. To achieve equality, we need men to step up and do a truly fair share of the housework and child care. The benefits will extend to everyone. Studies show that when fathers provide even just routine child-care, children have higher levels of educational and economic achievement and lower delinquency rates.”

7. Sit at the table

“This advice is both figurative and literal. I have attended many meetings where women who should have taken their rightful place at the conference table instead chose to sit on chairs lining the wall. Women need to be full participants in all conversations, sitting at the proverbial table as well as the real one.”

8. Done is better than perfect

“I have never met a woman, or man, who has stated, ‘Yes, I have it all.’ Because no matter what any of us has – and how grateful we are for what we have – no-one has it all. No-one can do it all either. Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. We must let go of unattainable standards. We are all forced to choose between work and family, exercising and relaxing, making time for others and taking time for ourselves. Choose what’s most important to you and your family and focus on that. Instead of striving for ‘perfection,’ we should aim for lives that are sustainable and fulfilling.”

9. Let’s all start talking about it

“Staying quiet and fitting in may have been all the first generations of women who entered the corporate world could do; in some cases, it might still be the safest path. But this strategy is not paying off for women as a group. Instead, we need to speak out, identify the barriers that are holding women back, and find solutions. For example, after I had my first child, I began to leave work at 5:30pm so I could get home in time to nurse my son. Once he was asleep, I would jump back online and continue my workday. Still, I went to great lengths to hide my schedule and worried that if anyone knew I was leaving the office early, they might assume that I wasn’t completely dedicated to my job. When I became COO, I wanted co-workers to know that Facebook cared more about results than face time so I opened up at a company-wide meeting and stated that I left the office early. Later, this ‘news’ spread throughout the internet. Journalist Ken Auletta said that I could not have got more headlines if I ‘had murdered someone with an axe.’ We have a long way to go before flexitime is accepted in most workplaces. And it will only happen if we keep raising the issue.”

10. Cheer girls and women on

“True equality will only be achieved when we all work together. Men need to support women and, I wish it went without saying, women need to support women too. Let’s end the ‘Mommy Wars’ and stop judging those who make different choices. Let’s cheer on men who want to raise children full time. At work, let’s banish the Queen Bee syndrome and encourage more men to mentor and sponsor more women. Let’s set expectations not by gender, but by personal passion, talents and interests.”

Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg is published by WH Allen in hardback priced £16.99

* as rated by Forbes magazine

What do you think will help women get ahead at work? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter