Sheryl Sandberg on “Bossy” Girls
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Sheryl Sandberg on “Bossy” Girls

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sat down with Pat Mitchell this week at the TED Women’s Conference in San Francisco to talk about women and leadership.

This was Sandberg’s first time back on a TED stage since her groundbreaking 2010 TED Talk in Washington, D.C., “New Ways to Look at Women’s Leadership,” which led to her book, Lean In.

Sandberg described how gender stereotypes are holding women back all over the world.  “Men are supposed to be strong and aggressive,” she said. “Women are supposed to help others.” Women who are strong and speak up are called “too aggressive” or “bossy.”

She asked the audience to raise their hands if they’ve ever been told that they’ve been too aggressive at work. The majority of the women in the crowd raised their hands. Only a handful of men raised theirs.

It starts in childhood, according to Sandberg. Little girls are called “bossy” when they are assertive.

“That little girl isn’t bossy,” she quipped. “She has executive leadership skills.”

When asked about the “lean in” movement spurred on by her book, Sandberg responded, “Everywhere I go, CEOs, mostly men, say to me, ‘You’re costing me so much money because women now want to be paid more.’ To them I say, I’m not sorry at all.”

But a lot still needs to change, according to Sandberg. “The latest census data show no movement in pay equality: at best, a woman is paid 77 cents to a man’s dollar, and that figure hasn’t improved since 2002. It’s not good enough.”

Although she was warned before writing her book that talking about women and gender would ruin her career, Sandberg is not ready to stop talking any time soon.

“It’s so hard to talk about gender,” she said.  “We shy away from the word ‘feminist,’ but it’s a word I think we have to embrace.”

The crowd exploded in applause.

“We need to get rid of the word ‘bossy’ and bring back the word ‘feminist,” Sandberg concluded.

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