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Facebook & Lean In's Sheryl Sandberg on How Everyone Can Promote Diversity

First Posted: Dec 16, 2015 02:58 PM EST
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Sheryl Sandberg At The Davos World Economic Forum 2014

Sheryl Sandberg At The Davos World Economic Forum 2014

Silicon Valley has a diversity problem, and despite working for a year to create more diverse workplaces with higher levels of Latinos, blacks and women, progress has been slow. But there are bright minds at work on solutions, which is one reason why Facebook COO and LeanIn.org Founder Sheryl Sandberg discussed diversity during an "ask me anything" style Q&A on Quora this week.

During the online event, Sandberg answered nearly two-dozen questions ranging from her personal motivation and role models to career advice and how to get hired at Facebook. A few of them, both directly and indirectly, asked about her feelings on being a woman in a male-dominated culture and the topic of diversity in Silicon Valley. Sandberg's answers unsurprisingly touted Facebook policies and initiatives at times, but altogether, it illustrated her deep concern and understanding of the issue, and how anyone can take action to help solve it.

The most direct question involving diversity in technology, prompting Sandberg's most thorough response on the matter, was "What should men do (and not do) to support the growth of women in tech?"

Referring to a mantra displayed on posters at Facebook headquarters, Sandberg replied that "nothing at Facebook is someone else's problem." Then she expanded that maxim to the issue at large.

"The inequities that persist are everyone's problem," wrote Sandberg. "Gender inequality harms men and women, racism hurts whites and minorities, and equal opportunity benefits us all. We need to help everyone understand that equality is necessary for our industry and economy."

"We quite simply can't afford to miss out on the contributions of half the population," she added. "The numbers of women in tech are plummeting: women were 35 percent of CS [Computer Science] majors in 1985, but only 18 percent today. Women are missing out on high-impact, flexible, well-paid, and exciting careers, and the industry is missing out on their ideas."

Sandberg then offered three pieces of advice to help change the culture of Silicon Valley and other workplaces to promote diversity.

1. Educate Yourself and Others About Bias

Putting it plainly, Sandberg admitted that she has unconscious biases, adding that so do all of us. And she additionally argued that one drawback of organizations based on intense meritocratic standards (undoubtedly this includes Facebook) is that they "actually show more bias." She pointed to Facebook's diversity training video package called "Managing Unconscious Bias" as a way to start. The online course was first built for Facebook employees, but the company later opened it up to the public.

2. Start or Join Lean In Computer Science and Engineering Circles

Sandberg, of course, is the force behind the Lean In movement focusing on improving work culture for women, so a little promotion of her organization is expected. But the idea behind her advice is actually rather direct: "The solution to getting more women into CS is ... getting more women into CS," wrote Sandberg.

"This is because stereotypes are self-reinforcing," she explained. "Computer science and engineering classes feel 'male' because they are dominated by men. As one CS student told me, 'There are more Davids than women in my CS department.'"

"We can all help women feel less isolated by creating communities to support them," she added.

Sandberg, Facebook, the Anita Borg Institute and LinkedIn all partnered together two years ago to create Lean In Circles, which are small discussion groups that encourage women to explore their interest in technology and to get mentoring from peers. Sandberg pointed to these as an example of how to get directly involved.

3. Be a 50/50 Partner at Home

Her last piece of advice is more on the personal side, but it's one that's often overlooked in diversity in Silicon Valley discussions, which normally analyze hiring practices, representation rates, diversity pipelines and so forth.

"We cannot get to an equal world without men leaning in at home -- and those who do have stronger marriages and healthier, happier, more successful children," wrote Sandberg. "If you're a manager or leader, think about what you can do to make work work for parents."

She pointed to the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently began offering all employees, regardless of gender, paid maternity/paternity leave.

Sandberg added, "In fact, Mark is on paternity leave now."

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