Facebook COO, best-selling author and mother of two, Sheryl Sandberg spoke with National Geographic for their January issue on feminism and how we can all help achieve gender equality.
“From the moment they are born, boys and girls are treated according to stereotypes,” Sandberg says. This can happen either consciously or subconsciously, where children are pigeon-holed according to certain behaviours. “We tell little boys, ‘Don’t cry like a girl’ – it’s not helpful,” she adds.
Sandberg has long been a feminist voice, with her best-seller Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead documenting her own experiences as she rode the technology boom, first with Google, and now as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She says that at the beginning of her career, there were as many men as there were women in entry level jobs. However, those numbers shifted as she moved through the higher ranks of a company, with many more men in executive positions. “If you look back at the 1950s, ‘60s or ‘70s, of course we’ve made progress,” she says. “But we have not made progress in getting a greater share of the top jobs, in any industry, in the past decade.”
In Australia, women comprise roughly 46 per cent of the workforce. However, the number of women on the boards of the ASX top 200 companies is only 18.6%. The gender pay gap is 18.2 per cent, meaning that women earn only 82c out of the dollar their male counterparts earn for the same work. Women are over-represented as part-time workers in low-paid industries and continue to face barriers to employment progression including sexual harassment, discrimination and gender-based caring expectations.
In New Zealand, the situation is slightly better with the gender pay gap between men and women being 12 per cent. However, the number of women on private company boards remains only at 14.75 per cent. Similarly, New Zealand women still face the same barriers as Australian women, including taking on more unpaid caring roles or lower paid part time work.
To help combat this inequality, Sandberg says we need to encourage girls from a young age to take on the same opportunities as their male counterparts. “Raise your hand if you’re a girl in class; run for class president. If you’re interested in it, be a leader,” she encourages. “Don’t let the world tell you girls can’t lead.”
At a time when many women struggle to identify as feminists, and the idea of “feminism” itself being considered a ‘dirty word’ by many, Sandberg’s voice is a powerful tool in championing for women’s leadership.