Men, this time Sheryl Sandberg is talking to you

Lisa Belkin
Chief National Correspondent
Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg delivers the Class Day address at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 28, 2014.   (Brian Snyder/REUTERS)

“Lean In Together” is the latest slogan in Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign to bring women more power in the workplace, and its goal is to persuade men that it’s not just women who benefit when men help women succeed.

Men should support their wives and daughters at home and their female colleagues in the workplace, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s great for men,” says Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the founder of LeanIn.org, which is based on the viral TED Talk and the best-selling book of the same name.

 How great? “Their marriages are stronger, their children are happier, their work outcomes are better,” Sandberg says. “However you measure it, men do better themselves when they lean in for equality.”

Sandberg announced her new campaign yesterday, unveiling a social media plan that includes a video with appearances by NBA and WNBA stars declaring that they “lean in.” The PSAs will run on ESPN.

“Starting Thursday night, the NBA is running ads about equality to be aimed at people watching basketball games,” Sandberg said. “How remarkable is that? Ads showing Stephen Curry talking about equality, showing LeBron James as an all-star dad? It’s one way to take the conversation from where it is and where it’s been, which is the forums where women are, to the forums where men are as well.” When it comes to creating conversation, Sandberg has quite a track record. She’s made “Lean In” a part of the lexicon, prompted the creation of more than 20,000 “Lean In circles” worldwide where women meet and discuss ways to advance at work, and reportedly led women across the country to walk into their bosses’ offices and say, “Sheryl Sandberg says I should ask for a raise.”

Does she think she can have the same effect on men? And can sparking conversation actually change the world? In an interview with Yahoo News, Sandberg agreed that even if change is incremental, imperfect and incomplete, it can be real.

Yahoo News: Last year at this time, LeanIn.org’s campaign was “Ban Bossy,” to bring attention to how we use different words to describe little girls and boys. This year it’s “Lean In Together.” Are you chipping away at inequality one slogan at a time?

Sheryl Sandberg: Our messaging continues to evolve and grow. And our realization is that we should work towards equality not just because it’s good for women, which it is, and because it’s fair, which it is, but also because it’s good for men.

Men should want this for themselves. There is data out there that if women entered the workforce in the same percentages as men, our GDP would grow by 5 percent. That’s good for everyone, women and men. There’s also data that shows that men who work well with women outperform their peers, whether they are the most entry-level position all the way up to the CEO. That’s good for women and men. In the home, men who do 50 percent of the chores have stronger marriages, stronger relationships, more sex. That is certainly good for everyone.

Does it bother you at all that you have to make the “business case” and to say, “Here’s what’s in it for you guys”? That it’s not just something we should all do because it is right?

We are still saying this is right and fair. But we’ve been saying that for a long time and haven’t really gotten anywhere. In the past 11 years, the wage gap only closed by one penny, and that was only for white women. Women have stayed at 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEO jobs for years and years. Of course equality is “right” and “fair,” and we will continue saying that, but if we can also teach men that this is good for them and that moves the needle, I’m for it.

I’m a little uncomfortable that the message might also be heard as a little patronizing. Women need men to support them so they can succeed. A woman can only get somewhere with the help of a man. Did you worry about that when deciding to go here?

Anytime you argue for change, you will possibly upset someone. It’s hard to make any one argument resonate with everyone and be perfect, and I don’t think we’re trying to do that.

But I also don’t think we are saying that men have to help women. I think it’s that we have to support each other. For most of history we have not supported women as leaders, true, but we also haven’t supported men as caregivers. It’s time we redefine the opportunities for women and, while doing that, we also redefine the opportunities for men. Women get discriminated against in the office, men get discriminated against when it comes to care.

For me, equality is equality. I want my daughter to have more choices and rights in the workplace and my son to be accepted if he chooses to be a work-at-home parent. The simple reality is, until men do more in the home, women won’t be able to do more in the office.

How much of the reason women lag in workplace pay and power is because of all the things you identified in “Lean In” — they don’t ask for raises or responsibility, they speak and stand in ways that sabotage their message — and how much of it is institutional barriers, things like lack of parental leave, lack of flexible work schedules?

I think it’s 100 percent of both. You absolutely need both. Look at Norway. It has the best policies in the world — maternity leave, paternity leave, 40 percent women on board quotas, 40 percent women in Parliament. And still, less than 4 percent of Norway’s big companies are run by women. All the institutional barriers are gone, and that’s what you are left with. You have to change the cultural barriers and the acceptance of women as leaders. You also have to change the institutional barriers. And those all can change by taking this to men.

If men start thinking more about parenting and they choose to parent more, think about how much more flexible our workplaces are going to get. We already know that the more women that enter senior management, that workplaces are more flexible. Once men start to lean in in the home, once these changes at work become as important to men as to women because they both need change to be the parents they want to be, think of how that can drive change.

I think people like to pit one answer against another. You have to be this or this. Actually, it’s almost always both. It’s both the institutional barriers and the culture. It’s both that we have to accept women as leaders and men as caregivers. It’s both that we have to do it because it’s just and we have to do it because it has a beneficial end. Almost always, real progress is made when points are integrated and not in opposition. And too often, conversations where we’re arguing for change get mired down in people thinking things are in opposition when they’re really not.