Where Are the Women?

Why Women Leave

Women, Sandberg says, often undermine themselves. She recounts the negotiations she had with Mark Zuckerberg when the founder of Facebook offered her the COO spot. Sandberg was ready to accept Zuckerberg’s first offer until her husband coached her by saying that no male executive would ever do that.

Gender differences abound. If a job description calls for five requirements and a man meets one of the five, the man usually thinks he’s qualified. If a woman meets four of the five, she sometimes questions whether she has the proper experience. Virginia Rometty, the first woman CEO of IBM, describes how—early in her career—she almost backed off from a “big job” because she didn’t feel totally prepared, telling the recruiter she would have to think it over. Later, as she discussed the situation with her husband, Rometty was stunned when her husband pointed out, “Do you think a man would ever have answered that question that way?”

“Leaning in,” Sandberg suggests, is all about women challenging the gender differences that dilute their confidence and having faith in their ability to combine work and family. Of course, it can be hard for a woman to hold on to that confidence when she squints at the occupants of the C-suite and boardroom to see if she recognizes anyone who looks like her. Often, she can’t. “That’s a very discouraging, daily, silent message, and that reality will trump any nice-sounding noises about how the organization values the contributions of women,” says Elle Kaplan, CEO of Lexion Capital Management, a New York-based financial services firm. “Nothing motivates ambitious women more than having tangible examples of women at the higher reaches of the enterprise.”