Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Sheryl Sandberg at BlogHer: Not every woman has to be a CEO

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 2:55 PM EDT, Mon July 29, 2013
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, right, chats with Lisa Stone at the 2013 BlogHer conference in Chicago. Sandberg is among the highest-paid female executives in the country. Click through the gallery for more top women earners: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, right, chats with Lisa Stone at the 2013 BlogHer conference in Chicago. Sandberg is among the highest-paid female executives in the country. Click through the gallery for more top women earners:
HIDE CAPTION
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
Highest-paid women
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sheryl Sandberg: "Lean In" is about women facing their fears and following their dreams
  • Some criticized Sandberg's best-seller as being elitist or geared toward corporate women
  • If her message got lost, Sandberg says she needs to take responsibility
  • Women at BlogHer, the largest conference of women bloggers, liked what they heard

Editor's note: Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

Chicago (CNN) -- Women have been some of Sheryl Sandberg's harshest critics, but the thousands who gathered over the weekend in Chicago at BlogHer, the largest conference in the world for women bloggers, fully embraced the "Lean In" author, crowding around her for a handshake and a personal photo and giving her a standing ovation after her keynote appearance.

Sandberg's repeated message to the women here was that "Lean In," her best-seller that has now sold 1 million copies, wasn't just about encouraging women to become a CEO or run for office.

" 'Lean In' is about believing in ourselves and reaching for any ambition," the Facebook chief operating officer and mom of two said, adding the book was directed at all women, from the work-at-home mom fighting for a better teacher for her children to a woman reaching for the C-suite. "It's about each one of us asking ourselves what we would do if we weren't afraid and then reaching for those ambitions."

In light of criticism her message is elitist or critical of women who don't have sky-high aspirations, Sandberg seemed to take pains to clarify what leaning in means for women such as the many work-from-home mom bloggers at this conference.

Were these remarks a shift in her message, I wondered as I listened, a recalibration after her book set off a national debate about what it means to "Lean In" or a message that Sandberg had always wanted to send from the start?

Women in the workplace
Sandberg: Women must toughen up
Facebook boss empowers women

"It's not a recalibration, but if the message got lost, I have to take some responsibility," Sandberg told me with a chuckle during a press conference. She said that while she considered writing a more detailed book, which she seemed to indicate would have included the stories of women from all walks of life, to make it "really authentic," she focused mainly on her experiences and those of the people around her, who happen to be corporate women.

"The intention was for the message to be really inclusive so that message is important to me," she said.

Judging by the response from women I chatted with after Sandberg spoke, her message came through loud and clear this time.

"I had always taken 'Lean In' as go all the way to the top," said Danielle Herzog, a mom of two who blogs at Martinis and Minivans. "Well, what if I don't want to go all the way to the top right now?"

But after hearing Sandberg speak, Herzog concluded that leaning in means simply "following your dreams," whether they lead you to the boardroom or not.

"What I took away from this is you should be the best at whatever you want to be," said Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, co-creator of an illustrated humor blog about parenting, "I don't want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I would hate that, but I can be the best CEO or chief of scientific snarkiness of Science of Parenthood."

Another point that resonated with the women here was Sandberg's concern about how we're raising our daughters, leading to what she calls a "leadership ambition gap" -- how by middle school, in survey after survey, more boys say they want to lead someday versus girls.

Sandberg rejects 'likability penalty'
Sandberg: Upside for men in 'Lean In'

"And no wonder because little girls figure out really easily that the boys are going to lead and be liked and they are going to be told, 'Do not be bossy,' " she said.

Leigh Baker, who writes about the comical side to parenting, didn't realize until she listened to Sandberg how differently she's raising her son and daughter.

"I am guilty of saying that she's bossy," she said. "I encourage her to be a leader on the field, but I don't encourage her to be a leader off the field, but I do the exact opposite with my son."

Sandberg's celebrity status following the release of her book has led to speculation she might be looking for her next act beyond Facebook, maybe even considering a run for public office. "No, I'm doing about all the leaning I can do right now," she told BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone with a laugh.

Facebook, she made clear, remains her focus, but she'll also spend as much time as she can on her "Lean In" online community, which now has more than 250,000 members, making it one of the fastest-growing communities on Facebook and the most engaged, according to Rachel Thomas, president of Sandberg's nonprofit, LeanIn.org.

To demonstrate the power of that community, after her keynote, Sandberg joined dozens of women at BlogHer as they broke into small groups to conduct "Lean In" circles designed to allow women to open up to their peers about questions such as what's holding them back.

"There were tables that cried, they cheered, they clapped, and at the end, they talked about ... how they felt, and it was amazing. 'We can do anything,' 'I feel empowered.' That is why circles are growing so rapidly," said Thomas, noting how there are more than 7,000 registered circles in all 50 states and at least 50 countries.

During Sandberg's time at BlogHer, I was struck by the disconnect between the criticism she's received nationally -- especially from some women -- and the response she received here from women, many of whom are not working in corporate America.

"I thought she was really humble and approachable, and I wasn't really expecting that," said Kelly Glover, host of the blog Big Curvy Love, who had a chance to meet Sandberg.

Deb Gaisford, a mom of an 18-month-old who blogs at Urban Moo Cow, said she thinks much of the criticism stems from women trying to defend their choices. "I think it's because people are looking at their own situations and clinging to their own sort of insecurities and not really being open to her message."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Jessica Ziegler, co-founder of the blog Science of Parenthood, said she doesn't find any of the criticism surprising. "People love to stir it up. It's so much easier to have a big fat negative opinion than to get behind a movement that is trying to support a huge group of people."

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT