Facebook’s most powerful woman has said that women should hold half the most important posts in business and government. But Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said women had to take action to create a more equal world.
"If you're thinking about doing something, ask yourself what you would do if you weren't afraid and then do it," she told the BBC. "It's really important that since women make up half of the population, women start having half the seats at tables where the decisions are made and that's not where we are today."
Sandberg, 44, who became the first woman on the social networking site’s board in 2012, was previously Google’s vice-president of global online sales. Before that, from 1996 to 2001, she was chief of staff to Larry Summers, US treasury secretary under former president Bill Clinton.
Last year Sandberg, reported to be worth more than $1 billion (£600 million), published Lean In: women, work and the will to lead, a best-selling book advising women on how to achieve their career goals and become leaders in the workplace.
The book argues that women need to break down social and workplace barriers – including discrimination, sexism and sexual harassment – that prevent them from taking leadership roles. “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes,” Sandberg said.
There is still a long way to go. In the UK, women make up 51 per cent of the population but occupy only 20 per cent of board seats in the FTSE top 100 companies, according to the most recent figures from the House of Commons Library.
Only 23 per cent of MPs and 14 per cent of the Cabinet are women. However, the figures are higher in the health service, where 32 per cent of NHS consultants are women; in senior civil service roles, with 36 per cent; and in education, where 37 per cent of secondary school headteachers are female.
Sandberg has been criticised as being “elitist”, and she has accepted that parts of her book are “most relevant to women fortunate enough to have choices about how much and when and where to work”.
- How many other women can you name who hold high-ranking business positions?
- Do you agree that half of executive positions should be held by women? Why?
- What reasons could explain why there are more men in management roles?
- Does gender affect your effectiveness as an entrepreneur? Explain your answer.
Introducing feminism A range of activities, statistics and conundrums designed to give students an insight into the feminist movement.
What motivates entrepreneurs? Use this PowerPoint presentation to start a discussion on what motivates people in business and enterprise.
What is equality? This activity requires students to consider what equality is and whether it can ever really be achieved.
Women who made a difference Consider the stories of eight highly inspirational women and instigate a class discussion about why they are important.