April 9, 2014 at 7:35 AM ET
In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg published "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead," a bold call to action for women in the workforce to assert themselves and assume their rightful place at the top of the hierarchy. In "Lean In: For Graduates," Sandberg extends that challenge to women just entering the job market to aim high, be confident and feel empowered. Here's an excerpt.
Congratulations! You made it!
It’s time to celebrate all the hard work that led to this joyful occasion. The road to graduation is a long, steep climb, so take a moment at the summit to be proud of your accomplishments. Whether you know exactly where you’re heading or feel a bit lost, everyone has this in common: you’re all in for big surprises.
At my college graduation, I never would have predicted that I’d wind up working in technology. I had given up being a serious math student in ninth grade when I attended a math competition, noticed that there were no other girls, and decided that “math was for boys” (yep, pretty much the opposite of leaning in). Also, I graduated in June 1991— two months before the birth of the World Wide Web. It’s shocking, but I made it through college with zero internet. No cell phones with cameras either, which given that I wore leg warmers and headbands is a blessing.
There’s no question that the world moves faster today. This means that grabbing opportunities is more important than ever. And I don’t have to tell you that you are entering a struggling economy. So along with all the excitement, most of you will also feel some uncertainty and fear.
Graduating is one of life’s trickier transitions. School offers clear structure and expectations, while the real world is harder to navigate. Your community is about to scatter. Not all the skills you’ve acquired will transfer. As you start your adult life, you will wonder if you’re making the right choices. You may also wish you had more choices.
The embarrassing truth is that I left college more concerned about my personal life than my professional life. My parents married young and repeatedly warned me that the “good ones” got snatched up in college. I believed them and even taped a poster to my dorm room wall of a frog sitting in the middle of a frilly four- poster bed, with a caption that read, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” I had fun with a few frogs and, in retrospect, am amazed that anyone was willing to kiss me under that ridiculous poster. But I graduated princeless—and frogless for that matter— which left me worried about my future.
Like you, I entered the workforce during a recession. Even my friends who had jobs were nervous. I was nervous too. It took me a long time to find my way into an industry I love. It took me a longer time to find the right partner. It took me even longer to find my voice.
When I graduated, I believed that the feminists who came before me had done the hard work of demanding equality and now it was ours for the taking. In my early jobs, my peers were a balanced mix of men and women. But with each passing year, there were fewer and fewer women in the room until I was often the only one. Slowly— and sadly— it dawned on me that the promise of equality is not the same as achieving equality.
While we have far more opportunity than our mothers and grandmothers, there are still biases that work against us. It can be painful to acknowledge that our experience as individuals is inescapably linked to our gender. We long for a true meritocracy, where we are judged on our abilities alone. But the world has a way of attaching the word “female” to our achievements: “female surgeon,” “female director,” “female marathoner,” “female senator.”
Very few people, women or men, sail through their professional lives without hurdles and setbacks. But women face additional challenges, including blatant and subtle discrimination, sexual harassment, and a lack of sensible public and workforce policies. Women of color face even greater barriers. I say this not to discourage you, but to prepare you. Until we— and others— are aware of these biases, we cannot change them. While this book doesn’t have all the answers, it does explore many of the issues that I wish I’d understood better when I graduated.
As you start your career, you should be aware that men are often promoted based on potential, while women are promoted on past performance. You should also be aware that when men are successful, they are often better liked by both men and women, but when women are successful, they are liked less. I have asked audiences around the world to raise their hands if they’ve been told they were too aggressive at work. Time and again, a small fraction of men raise their hands, while a great majority of women shoot a hand into the air . . . and sometimes two.
You should also be aware of the internal barriers that we often impose on ourselves. Too many women sit on the side of the room when they should be sitting at the table. Too many women lower their voices when they should be speaking up.
This is not our fault. We internalize messages that say it’s wrong for us to be outspoken, aggressive, and as powerful as—or even more powerful than—men. In response, we alter our actions. A study by two Princeton researchers asked college students to compete in a video game in which players dropped bombs on opponents. When the students believed they were being monitored, the men dropped more bombs than the women. When the students believed no one was watching, the women dropped significantly more bombs than the men.
We hold ourselves back not just out of fear of seeming too aggressive but also by underestimating our abilities. Ask a woman to explain why she’s successful and she’ll credit luck, hard work, and help from others. Ask a man the same question and he’s likely to explain, or at least think, “C’mon, I’m awesome!”
I know how hard it can be to believe in yourself. To this day, I struggle to feel confident. A few months after I finished writing Lean In— an entire book about how women should own their success— I was at a meeting to kick off a project with the senior Facebook team. For years, my colleague Jay Parikh and I had pushed for this project, but no one agreed with us. Then, suddenly, we had a breakthrough. I was thrilled and started the meeting by telling everyone how grateful I was for their support and how I had worried for years that I was wrong about the need for this initiative. Jay looked up, paused, and said, “I knew Sheryl and I were right and you would all come around eventually.” Really? His belief that we were right was not shakenby years of everyone disagreeing with us?
Later that night, I was Facebook messaging with Jay, and I asked him if I could tell this story on my book tour. He said yes. I asked if I could use his name when telling the story. He said of course. He’s a great guy, so I told him I would make sure he did not come across as arrogant. He typed back, “I’m not worried about that.” Again, really?
It would be so nice to feel that level of confidence. And while it’s never a good idea to be boastful, believing in your own self- worth is essential to achieving your full potential. As you begin your career, you will probably find yourself working next to a man who has Jay’s deep and deserved faith in himself. If you take the chair on the side of the room, he will take the seat at the table because he knows he’s awesome. So please remember that you deserve a seat at that same table . . . and that you are awesome too.
Part of believing in yourself means not worrying too much about failure. Know that your career— and your life— will have starts and stops, twists, and even U- turns. This is especially true in an economy where you may have to take the job you can get as opposed to the job you want. Focus on taking full advantage of any opportunity to develop your skills. And remember that your early years in the workforce are a great time to strengthen areas of weakness. So many of us avoid doing the things we’re not good at, practically ensuring that we will never improve. If leading a project scares you, volunteer to do it. If you don’t like speaking in public, start by addressing small groups. Look for ways to stretch yourself, both big and small.
My first job out of school was with the World Bank in Washington, D.C. My thesis advisor, Larry Summers, had just taken a job as chief economist and hired me to be his research assistant. At times, I was incredibly busy helping him write papers and speeches. But when he left town to deliver those speeches, I sometimes didn’t have enough work to do. I would sheepishly approach some of the other economists to ask if they needed help. The response was usually “no,” which I took to mean that I was literally useless. Sometimes I sat at my desk trying to look busy. Sometimes I snuck out. But over time, I stopped asking for tasks and just started doing things I thought might help. They began to see me as more capable, and after a while I was consistently busy.
While I eventually got that right, I got plenty wrong. It never even occurred to me to negotiate my first salary. I waited for someone to tell me how much money I’d be earning so I could figure out where to live. I ended up supplementing my income by teaching aerobics classes on the weekend. Yes, I turned to a world of leg lifts and leotards. There was a downside: During my first month at work, I was riding in an elevator with a group of tall middle-aged men in gray suits when one of them exclaimed, “Sheryl, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” before exiting the elevator. The other gray suits looked down on me in shock. I quietly explained, “I teach an aerobics class,” which sounded even more embarrassing. The next time the doors opened, I hurried out even though I was on the wrong floor.
Each of us makes her own way in her own time. You may not love every job you have, but you will learn from all of them. Sometimes you will have mentors to help guide the way and sometimes you will have to rely on your colleagues, friends, teachers, and family for advice. You might want to join a Lean In Circle (leanin.org/circles), which is a peer mentoring group that provides education and encouragement. When you need help— and we all do— please look for it. No one needs to navigate this world alone.
And if anyone, including that voice in the back of your head, insists you must choose between work and having a family, remember that men routinely assume they can have both. You should assume that you can too, especially since mothers now make up the majority of primary or co-breadwinners for American families.
I have so many hopes for you. I hope you head into the next phase of your life with your eyes wide open. I hope you find engaging work and pursue it with gusto. I hope that if you aspire to lead, you will let nothing limit your ambition. Above all, I hope you believe in yourself.
Your life’s course should not be determined by doing what’s safe and easy but by reaching for what’s challenging and hard: the classes that seem impossible on the first day, but you study enough to pass . . . the jobs you’re not quite qualified for, but you work like crazy to acquire the skills . . . the moments when you feel alone and overwhelmed, but you are brave enough to ask for help.
This is your time. You can help create a more equal world where everyone sits at the table and all voices are heard. Generations of women are rooting for you. I am rooting for you.
So start by aiming high. Be ambitious. Seize opportunities. Make opportunities. Embrace leadership. Lean in.
Excerpted from Lean In: For Graduates, copyright (c) 2014 by Sheryl Sandberg. Used with permission by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.