Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke to the community about resilience, strength and women in leadership during a visit to the installation, Thursday.
Sandberg praised the service members in attendance, saying she knew how hard it was for them to attend an event during the duty day. She also emphasized the importance of the military’s role in leading the way for gender integration.
“For every woman in the military, by showing up and doing your job, you are fighting for equality and you serve as an inspiration to people both inside and out of the military,” Sandberg said. “As you take your seat at the table, perform in your job, hold yourself to those rigorous standards, you are what people inside and outside look up to.”
She highlighted the importance of her advice for both men and women, as both have inherent gender biases that hold people to stereotypical expectations.
“We believe, stereotypically, that men should lead and women should be communal. It’s what we’ve been taught for a very long time,” she said.
According to Sandberg, the first step in overcoming these gender biases is to acknowledge them. Women need to know that they too are guilty of characterizing someone simply based on gender. This acknowledgement allows people to overcorrect to account for these biases, she said.
But, this overcorrection shouldn’t lead to special treatment.
“The women here don’t want to be female Soldiers, they want to be Soldiers,” explained Sandberg.
She said the only way to acknowledge these biases, but still make it clear that women want to be Soldiers first is to have honest conversations. One example Sandberg provided is the historical use of women to write the boards at West Point. She said this prevents female cadets from truly contributing to the conversation because those who are writing usually can’t make the “killer” point.
Sandberg emphasized that this discrepancy is happening everywhere, from the military to corporate America. Talking about these “little things” inside an individual’s control may not seem like a lot, but it can help drive bigger, systematic changes, she said.
One way to talk about these issues is in a Lean In Circle, which are small groups of men and women who meet once a month to support each other’s ambitions. Lean In Circles is an official Department of Defense program, and Sandberg’s visit marked the launch of the groups at Fort Bragg.
After her remarks, Sandberg opened the floor to questions from attendees. Female service members asked questions about cross-gender mentoring and starting a Lean In Circle, and some just expressed their appreciation for her advice.
One female service member said she was struggling with going back to her job after having her first baby in the fall, but was motivated by reading Sandberg’s book Lean In.
“I just want to say thank you because it really made me feel like I can do this, that I can have a baby and have a career,” she said with tears in her eyes.
For more information on joining at Lean In Circle at Fort Bragg, visit www.leanin.org/military.