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Reporter’s Notebook: Facebook’s Sandberg delivers a noble message in a complicated conversation
CNN's Soledad O'Brien sits down with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to talk about the reaction to her book "Lean In."
March 15th, 2013
07:52 AM ET

Reporter’s Notebook: Facebook’s Sandberg delivers a noble message in a complicated conversation

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch Soledad O'Brien's interview with Sheryl Sandberg on "Starting Point" at 7 a.m. ET on Monday, March 18th and Tuesday, March 19th.

By Soledad O'Brien, "Starting Point" anchor

When you walk into Facebook’s New York City office, you get a sweeping loft-like feeling from a beautiful courtyard with big open windows in the very modern Bank of America building on Madison Ave. You’re also faced with a message in massive red letters that you can only read at a distance:

“PROCEED AND BE BOLD.”

proceedandbeboldcropped

I was there for my sit-down interview with Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer. She walks me over to the wall of windows with red letters to make it clear that the message is the ethos of the social media company.

Sandberg is wearing a navy and red dress, with a dark navy cardigan, and comes across as professional and personable. She had just rushed from another interview with CNN sister company Fortune magazine. You may have also seen her in one of her other zillion interviews this week, with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” or on the cover of “TIME” magazine.

As we prepare for the interview, she tells me she doesn’t enjoy the process of talking about herself, and admits she finds it to be a bit of a struggle. But the struggle must be worth it, because Sandberg’s message is gaining traction as a result of her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” which was released on Monday.

The advice in “Lean In” is best when used to guide young women. In the book, Sandberg writes that women should strive to close the ambition gap with men, and to become leaders early in their careers to allow them flexibility later on.

“ 'Lean In' is not about fixing women,” she tells me. “'Lean In' is about all of us coming together to understand the stereotypes that are holding women back and fix them.”

However, that’s not how many have interpreted Sandberg’s points.

Here’s just a glimpse into some of the sometimes scathing reviews of her work:

NYTimes.com: Pompom Girl for Feminism

Washingtonpost.com: Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ campaign holds little for most women

Slate.com: Lean Where?

NYPost.com: A dame shame

“I think the reaction is intense because this is personal,” Sandberg admits. “I’m very clear in the book. This is personal for me.”

One of the more frequently spewed criticisms is that Sandberg is blaming women. But in talking with her it’s clear that is not part of her message. She understands there are structural barriers to women’s success, but her advice is about encouraging women not to be afraid to grow their careers.

In our interview, Sandberg recounts a story of a young woman who asks for guidance on balancing work and career. As the conversation continues, Sandberg learns the young lady doesn’t have children and she’s not married. In fact, this young woman was fresh out of college, but wanted to make sure she could do the job and have a kid.

“My answer to her is yeah, when you have a kid, but if you start leaning back too early, you’re going to end up in a job that pays less and it’s not as easy to cover childcare. Or you’re going to wind up working for some guy who 10 years before was leaning forward when you were leaning back. When you have a hard decision to make, make it then,” she says.

Throughout our conversation, Sandberg sticks consistently to the message of her book. I asked her about a moment that was discussed in the media this week, when she told “60 Minutes” that young assertive girls shouldn’t be told they’re bossy, but instead told they have leadership qualities.

I point out that same girl in 25 years will likely still be penalized when it’s determined that she IS bossy, and it’s less of a problem in naming the issue for the girl but more about how the behavior is perceived.

“That’s exactly right,” she says. “The stereotypes that start in childhood go all the way up to adulthood. They are why women pay a penalty for success that men don’t pay.”

Sandberg dodges any questions about her future. I did my best to get her to divulge what she was planning.

“I really love my job,” Sandberg says.

What about five years down the road, or even 10 to 15 years from now?

“Look, I love my job. I’d like to always have the following. I’d like to always make sure that I’m doing something that I believe in. I really believe in Facebook. I will work there if I believe in it,” she says.

Towards the end of our hourlong interview, I ask about her about admitting in the book that she still faces self doubt and a lack of confidence. I wanted to know if the Sheryl Sandberg sitting in front of me, who some say is nearly worth $1 billion, could feel that way, what is the typical woman to do?

“I never thought I could write a book but I did,” she answers. “I didn’t know if I could do the Facebook job but I’m doing it and I’m doing it to the very best of my ability. And so I gained confidence. I gain confidence with every assignment I reach for, and with every new thing I take on. Other women can, too.”

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. 123elle

    Nonetheless, a very interesting interview.

    March 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. 123elle

    When I think of Sandberg, and then I think of Rockefeller, Canegie, Vanderbilt, Bill Gates, there is no comparison between what they built and what she has done. They actually gave America its defining infrastructure; while Sandberg happened to amass a lot of money thanks to a gigantic fad. I can't help thinking of her as a very wealthy nonentity. She is not a great innovator or thinker (neither is Zuckerberg of course). I don't begrudge her her money at all; I just don't think she will be remembered as having added anything meaningful or original. I see Oprah trying to change the human equation for the poor - no matter how she is sometimes ridiculed, but Sandberg just amasses large amounts of lucre and pontificates.

    March 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. iceload9

    Nice add for the book. A little lengthy but Sandberg should sell a few books.

    March 17, 2013 at 11:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. AK

    Another rich Ivy-lefty yenta who dispenses wisdom from her ivory tower on what is wrong with the rest of flyover country and how we should fix ourselves.

    Gets really really old.

    March 17, 2013 at 11:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. NorCalMojo

    If a male executive wrote an article advising men to put their family on the back burner, it would draw a lot of the same criticism. Plenty do put their bosses before their family, but you're not supposed to say it out loud.

    If her husband and kids are happy with the arrangement, I don't see the problem. I'm sure the money she earns takes some of the sting out of it. As long as women are up front about their priorities before the marriage vows, its no big deal.

    March 17, 2013 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. SuZieCoyote

    Oh, *that's* my problem! I didn't Lean In enough!!! I get it. The daily, grinding sexism of the workplace had nothing to do with my failure to reach CEO. The 50-60 hour work weeks back to back, at the expense of my family....that wasn't "Leaning In" sufficiently. If only I had parents with hundreds of influential connections, a mentor who was at the top of the food chain, and a pocketbook filled with sufficient cash to get me into the best schools, then I'd have Leaned In much, much more. Our failure to be treated equally in the work force is our faults We of course. It is always the woman's fault.

    Nothing has changed. Women have not been afforded any sort of real equality in the workforce that acknowledges the importance of children, family, community – only the opportunity to become men with lady parts.

    March 17, 2013 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. cb

    ps facebook stinks

    March 17, 2013 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. SuZieCoyote

    Oh, *that's* my problem! I didn't Lean In enough!!! I get it. The daily, grinding sexism of the workplace had nothing to do with my failure to reach CEO. The 50-60 hour work weeks back to back, at the expense of my family....that wasn't "Leaning In" sufficiently. If only I had parents with hundreds of influential connections, a mentor who was at the top of the food chain, and a pocketbook filled with sufficient cash to get me into the best schools, then I'd have Leaned In much, much more. Our failure to be treated equally in the work force is our faults We of course. It is always the woman's fault.

    Nothing has changed. Women have not been afforded any sort of equality in the workforce – only the opportunity to become men with va ginas, as is Ms. Sandberg.

    March 17, 2013 at 10:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. mjbrin

    I would love it if when a woman is in charge she is labeled "in charge or the boss", not bossy

    March 17, 2013 at 10:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. cb

    this is all just a load of cr@p. she's lucky, just like others. she's not special, just lucky. it happens. we understand. it's got nothing to do with being a man or a woman. people are out of jobs, this is not the time to interview someone like this, that 0% can relate to. what a waste of media space, when you have people underpaid, unemployed and losing jobs left and right. talk about inappropriate timing. people can't put gas in their car, buy enough food. college kids can't find a job making more than 8 bucks an hour. forget the whole women's lib thing. familes are scr$wed. why anyone would buy a book written by someone with good luck is beyond reason. you can work hard and it may or may not pan out. don't buy it folks. people like her guard their jobs with their life. it's just the reality.

    March 17, 2013 at 10:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mike in SA

    Interesting how the MSM starts attacking these accomplished women when they start saying things like "Women are responsible for their own success and the fact that they didn't get as far as their male colleagues may partly be the women's own fault," and "There are consequences to being as career focused as men have typically been. Men have missed out on a lot that they wish they hadn't. They have not 'had it all' and to think women can 'have it all' based on the perception that men have had that is ridiculous" and "No you can't work from home." These truths are just driving the main stream media crazy just like the multiple studies that show in apples-to-apples comparisons women with the same continuous work experience and similar education doing the same job only make 4% than males instead of the 24% from the apples-to-oranges BLS comparison that they try to sell.

    March 17, 2013 at 9:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • fred37ify

      Of coarse they do ! The women aren't responsible for their success – Barrack and the government is !!!!!!!!!!!!11 Just ask him !

      March 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. G_Edwards

    She seems to be trying to emulate Donald Trump, despite her claim that "she doesn’t enjoy the process of talking about herself."

    .

    March 17, 2013 at 9:30 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ms. Gail Pressley

    Great report Soledad! It's good to know that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is just like everyother Women. Always moving forward, yet reaching back to help one...

    Gail Pressley, Orlando, Fl
    OACDST

    March 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ash

    The only sense I can make of this book is that it is an introduction to
    Sandberg as a person. She appears to be extremely intelligent and her actions seem to be superbly calculated. This book doesn’t have an audience …. those who could lean in are probably doing so…a handful of elite executive women…and those who have to follow what the chain of command wishes are doing so. I guess this book needed some sort of a theme… a biography would be rather unappealing. It doesn’t matter that her message does not resonate will most women…what matters is that Sandberg is getting a lot of publicity. Why does she want to get publicity? I speculate she wants to enter politics.

    I have a serious issue with a woman entering politics who says that marriage is the most important career move (and apparently doesn’t have to do with being in love). We need people in Washington that are human and have empathy for others.

    Through this book Sandberg has shown that she is totally out of touch with issues of everyday American women. She has also shown that she believes that she is in a position to give advice, and does not care that her advice doesn’t apply to the position most women are in. She is already acting too much like the current politicians…I don’t want more of the same….I don’t want a female Ramni! I want someone like Oprah!

    March 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. pockets

    Have you noticed that all the women making these statements are making a bundle of money. Not that I have anything against women making money at all. If they work for it they deserve it.....its HOW they come across. Its not appreciated to sound like your intelligent and everyone else is stupid. What goes around comes around. I for one do not have a Facebook account and never will. I think the company will fail in the long run as others have in the past. They do not 'produce' anything. Its not tangible. Its over for these people.

    March 15, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Ollie

    She needs to make some sandwiches.

    March 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  17. DavidE7

    A man does not want a woman who "leans in". He wants a woman who leans back. Until the day that the world is no longer organized by power, it will always be that way.

    March 15, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  18. boyamidumb

    Darling no one really cares about what you oh so massive ego has to say

    March 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  19. KBlarg

    Where I almost stopped reading: "Sandberg is wearing a navy and red dress, with a dark navy cardigan, and comes across as professional and personable." WTF, O'Brien, did you learn nothing from Hillary Clinton?

    March 15, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Ben

    Why hasn't this woman been charged with securities fraud?

    March 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jay in NC

    Sanberg, when will FaceBook be audited by a third party? Investors deserve to know the true number of people that use FaceBook's service.

    One day we will learn that bots are the only ones clicking on FaceBook advertisements. Then Sanberg and Bernie Madoff will be in Butner, NC sipping tea.

    March 15, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  22. WorkingProfessionalWithFamilyandHobbies

    I don't see Sandberg as a successful woman. She can justifiably be seen as a "successful woman in a man's world." But with all her fortune and professional responsibility, she is a failure. She benefited from programs that enabled women to compete, e.g. Title IX, but in achieving her "success," she failed to change the working world so that woman (and men) could have career satisfaction, financial success, a family, and a rich life, which was the hope and impetus behind programs that equaled the playing field so that girls could participate and change the world for the better. Why would women "lean in" to the crappy world for which she settled? The successful woman will succeed in the professional world on terms that validate her as a woman, and all the rewarding roles that being a woman entails, and not just as a woman who made it in a man's world.

    March 15, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  23. mindcrime

    So personal, that's why it's so profitable!

    March 15, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  24. jacksonian2012

    CNN (along with most of the rest of the NY media) needs to find something to do. How about the nuke threat from N. Korea? You got that one covered? So a woman got promoted. BFD.

    March 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  25. DCBuck

    If anything, most women in the workforce today seem to be overcompensating for a perceived lack of drive, rather than needing more of it.

    March 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  26. CNNwatcher

    Obviously the news cycle must be slow. Got nothin' else so this is making big news. Ugh...........

    I am a woman, so feel must discuss for sake of all women (again, ugh).

    I did work 25 years in finance. Liked the $$, but pressure never ending. This woman went to Harvard, so how much does she have in common with the rest of us?? I did have fertility issues, so her touting women pushing careers is really not sound advice for women who's best productive years are early 20's. Who's speaking up for them? If they want to be CEO, great, but what percentage are those??? She's just looking for more women pals at the Board Meetings............

    March 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Linda Operle

    I love the message. Women who expect to be treated as an equal to men have to long been called names accused of being a Bi-- and worse. Problem is a lot of that starts in the relationship women have with their husbands or boyfriends who they allow to treat them as a lessor being. Find a man that appreciates and respects your value and that carries over to your career.

    March 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Pete

    She's obviously a very accomplished woman, but the media makes it seem like she is running facebook. She works for Mark Zuckerberg...

    March 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  29. enuftrashtalk

    '...she told “60 Minutes” that young assertive girls shouldn’t be told they’re bossy, but instead told they have leadership qualities.

    I point out that same girl in 25 years will likely still be penalized when it’s determined that she IS bossy, and it’s less of a problem in naming the issue for the girl but more about how the behavior is perceived.'

    That would depend *entirely* on what your being assertive about and why.

    You're complaining about a stereotype by invoking a stereotype here.. i.e:

    “The stereotypes that start in childhood go all the way up to adulthood. They are why women pay a penalty for success that men don’t pay.”

    Maybe men pay different penalties for success. Maybe if your are confident about your own tragectory, you don't have to pay anyone. A "penalty" is a perception.

    March 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  30. enuftrashtalk

    I would submit that it's not about gender, and an arrogant, bossy, overbearing male can be just as annoying as a female with the saem attributes.

    There are ways to be "bold" without being an irrelevant pain in the neck . . .

    March 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  31. enuftrashtalk

    It will get personal... if I have to see one more article or video trying to sell this book, er.... about this "noble message".

    March 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  32. enuftrashtalk

    I will get personal..... if I have see one more article or video selling this book...er, about this "noble message".

    March 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  33. poreschebenz

    You're joking? Two wealthy, privileged women (spare me the "came from a poor background" spin) telling me I should relate to them or what they think. this country has lost it's bearings. What does it matter five or 10 years down the road for Sandbag or Soldouto'brien? They make enough in a year to survive a lifetime. And I should relate to what either says because they are like most of us?

    March 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  34. felixelgato

    Facebook is dumb. People who work for Facebook are dumb.

    March 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Gabbo

    If these women were half as talented as they THOUGHT they were, they would be far more succesful. Facebook is simply a moment in time – two years from now they will be a distant memory.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Bryan

    ZzZzzZzzZzzzzzzzzzzzzZ

    March 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  37. kingcaesarhouse

    Shame on Soledad O'Brien! This sentence would NEVER have been written if she was interviewing a man!

    "Sandberg is wearing a navy and red dress, with a dark navy cardigan, and comes across as professional and personable".

    O'Brien and this type of journalism is one of the reasons women find it hard in the workplace

    March 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  38. LOL

    This woman's face is everywhere! The PR machine is working overtime.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Lucas Strange

    Why are women trying to vilify Sandberg? As a father with a 7yr old daughter I need more people like here that I can point to and say "Your can do that, too!".

    March 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Spendlove

    Another piece by The Huffington Post... err I meant CNN.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff s

      @spendlove

      What does it matter?

      March 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • heyared

      And? A CNN correspondent interviewed her and wrote the article. I don't always agree with CNN's spin on things, but I don't get your comment at all.

      March 15, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Another piece (of sh..) who complains about CNN's reportage, yet refuses to go away and find an online news source that says what he wants to hear - because he'd rather just stick around and whine like a petulant little child instead of contributing anything interesting or helpful to the discussion. That about sum it up, Spendy?

      March 15, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Tim Trunkert

    When do we get a "CEO's in America" special from Soledad?

    March 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Pete

    I wonder how strong her stance against nepotism is.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  43. scars

    How many different articles are they going to write about this book? No matter how many ways they try to rephrase to make it seem like she isn't advocating that women act like men, that is exactly what she is doing. Perhaps the way a woman approaches things is different than a man's way. Is that always a bad thing? Perhaps the feminine way of doing a task might actually be the better way. But we'll never really know because all we are telling women is that it is a man's world and you'd better act like a man if you want to succeed. Until the day comes when feminine traits are as valued as the masculine ones, we still have a long way to go. "Feminists" who advocate women need to be more like men aren't really feminists at all. In fact, all they are doing is saying men are better and women need to act more like men because we are inferior and we are "doing it wrong". Personally, I like being a woman. I like and value my feminine traits. A male colleague's masculine traits complement mine. And the gender neutral traits that any of us can have are the common ground we can start on to build a great working partnership between women and men in the workplace.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  44. HB

    That's why she's where she is today – she never worked FOR a woman.

    March 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Phil

    As a FB shareholder, I'm troubled that the COO seems to be more focused on her book than the company.

    March 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Why is this news?

    Really – who cares? This is just another self serving, self impressed Harvard MBA trying to get a little attention. Sorry boss – there are a lot of successful women (and men) out there – we do not need another stinking book on why you think your opinions are so important.

    March 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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