Sheryl Sandberg and Speaking Up in the Workplace

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Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant have been authoring a four part series for the NY Times called Women at Work and it’s been eye opening to say the least. If you’re familiar with Sheryl, you know she is the fearless leader of the Lean In movement. She strongly encourages women to lean in, understand how they are held back, and how we hold ourselves back from achieving our professional goals and advancing on to take on leadership roles in the workplace.


In the recent article in the NY Times; Speaking While Female,  Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant write on why women stay quiet at Work. As working career mothers, it is easy to relate to the descriptions of what women face in the workplace. There have been instances where our opinions and input were deemed as trivial and despite years of experience, we’re dismissed.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”

The article speaks mainly to the response of men to women speaking up in the workplace, but what about the response of women? Is the problem that we as women are unable to deal with other women speaking up? I have heard experiences of many women in the workplace, unable to support each other or recognize good intentions when presenting a new idea. It is often other women in the work place who cut each other down, whether it be for another promotion, needing time off for family/leave, or just a simple idea. Women need to start supporting each other if we want to be effective with change.

When male employees contributed ideas that brought in new revenue, they got significantly higher performance evaluations. But female employees who spoke up with equally valuable ideas did not improve their managers’ perception of their performance. Also, the more the men spoke up, the more helpful their managers believed them to be. But when women spoke up more, there was no increase in their perceived helpfulness.

It becomes a game on when and where to speak up, often leaving women feeling that their best attribute is to hold there tongue and speak at the right moment, a sort of twisted strategic plan. Women who speak their mind are often seen as aggressive and forthright, not creative and innovative. It isn’t easy to figure out (which is a vast understatement), but if we initiate conversations and improve upon an accepting culture in the workplace, women will speak more freely and speak their minds, offering well intended value to their organizations.

The long-term solution to the double bind of speaking while female is to increase the number of women in leadership roles. (As we noted in our previous articleresearch shows that when it comes to leadership skills, although men are more confident, women are more competent.) As more women enter the upper echelons of organizations, people become more accustomed to women’s contributing and leading.

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