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Sheryl Sandberg: ‘Resist the Tyranny of Low Expectations’ to Reach Gender Equality at Work

The leaders of LeanIn.Org on the new Women in the Workplace 2017 report.

Image courtesy of Jopwell

Nearly 50 percent of men report that when one—just one—in ten senior leaders in their organization is a woman, that constitutes women being “well represented” in top positions, according to the Women in the Workplace 2017 report released today from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company.

What’s even more surprising about that statistic is that “a third of women agree,” Facebook chief operating operator and founder of LeanIn.Org Sheryl Sandberg and president of LeanIn.Org Rachel Thomas write in an article about the report for the Wall Street Journal. “When so many people see a leadership team that’s only 10 percent women—who, let’s remember, are half the population—and think, ‘That’s good enough,’ it’s a sign that we’re too comfortable with the status quo,” they write.

According to the report, the status quo is pretty bleak. The report is based on data from 222 companies with more than 12 million employees and surveys from more than 70,000 employees. And it presents a clear trend: “This year’s report shows that progress toward equality in the workplace continues to be slow—and may even be stalling,” Sandberg and Thomas write. Women experience a workplace that is “skewed in favor of men,” something even more challenging for women of color, particularly black women. Plus, women and men “see the state of women—and the success of gender diversity efforts—differently,” according to the report. “Men have a more positive assessment that often clashes with reality.”

For instance, 63 percent of men reported that they felt their company was doing “what it takes to improve gender diversity” compared to 49 percent of women. But beyond future plans to improve, men and women view current problems, like disrespectful behavior towards women, very differently. “Men are 60 percent more likely than women to think such behavior is quickly addressed in their company,” according to the report.

As for what to do next, Sandberg and Thomas emphasize that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” model to go about creating a workplace that’s more equitable for everyone. But they do detail a few steps to take in their Wall Street Journal piece, including senior leaders making gender equality a priority.

While the findings aren’t exactly uplifting, Sandberg and Thomas explain why the insight they provide is so important: “We need to resist the tyranny of low expectations. We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.”

Read the entire report here and Sandberg and Thomas’ piece on Wall Street Journal here.

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