Sheryl Sandberg: “Everyone is stupid compared to me”

The latest Sheryl Sandberg piece is “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom”.

Sandberg says “If men want to make their work teams successful, one of the best steps they can take is to bring on more women.” In other words, men are too dumb to realize how much richer they could be if they hired more women. (Related: the Kleiner Perkins partners were too dumb to figure out how much richer they would have been if they had promoted superstar Ellen Pao to partner.) Women are also too dumb to get rich by hiring women, as evidenced by the fact that Yahoo did not go on a feminine hiring spree after Marissa Mayer took the CEO job, nor did HP when run by its female CEOs (Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman). Even Sheryl Sandberg the COO is dumb compared to Sheryl Sandberg the pundit. Facebook has a low percentage of female employees and managers (Bloomberg). Her article doesn’t explain why she has elected to cut her own compensation by not hiring women to make Facebook more successful and thus boost the value of her Facebook shares.

Sandberg says “Research shows that when men do their share of chores, their partners are happier and less depressed, conflicts are fewer, and divorce rates are lower.” Presumably it would be Sandberg (previously divorced, according to Lean In) who would decide what each man’s “share of chores” should be. Sandberg adds “Couples who share chores equally have more sex.” (she does not cite “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?”, a February 6, 2014 New York Times article about research concluding the opposite, nor “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”).

Sandberg writes from her fully staffed household in which “[second husband] Dave pays bills, handles our finances, provides tech support” to suggest that other women’s husbands should behave differently than her own: “when fathers shouldered an equal share of housework, their daughters were less likely to limit their aspirations to stereotypically female occupations. … For a girl to believe she has the same opportunities as boys, it makes a big difference to see Dad doing the dishes.” Could it be that this study simply shows that girls age 7-13 perceive marriages without a division of labor as inferior overall? If a girl sees her dad doing the dishes every night she is more likely to reject the concept of marriage and therefore prepare for a life as a single person with a high-income job? Perhaps she will later change her mind and get married anyway, but the “aspirations” measured by researchers interviewing 7-13-year-olds would be toward a career without marriage or children. And that does raise the question of whether research by a graduate student interviewing 7-13-year-olds is something we should base our lives on. The interviews that I have conducted with children indicate that 35 percent of Americans are veterinarians (35 percent of children said that they wanted to be vets and it seems reasonable to assume that they followed through on their plans from kindergarten).

Sandberg shows the value of a Harvard economics degree when analyzing complex data: “Twenty-five percent of United States gross domestic product growth since 1970 is attributed to the increase in women entering the paid work force.” In other words, if a higher percentage of the population has a waged job, the GDP number will go up. Inspired by Sandberg, my personal plan for boosting GDP will be to have every child in American sign up to Uber. Then when a parent has to drive the child to a soccer game, the child will put the request in through Uber and pay the parent for accepting the trip. Where does the child get the money? The parent can hire a payroll service to issue the child paychecks and an end-of-year W-2 for doing homework. If successful, parents will also sell at-home meals to children. Then we hire the neighbor to clean our kitchen while taking a 1099 job cleaning his kitchen every night….

Sandberg says that more gender equality will make “entire societies prosper.” This U.N. ranking does not seem to support this theory. If we take “prosper” as something broader than the GDP number and more like the U.N. Human Development Index, there does not appear to be a strong statistical link between prosperity and gender inequality. Poor countries seem to rank lower in gender inequality but perhaps this is because one of the things that people like is equality and rich countries buy more of it while poor countries can’t afford it. (One interesting item in the table is that China is closer to gender-equal than the U.S., as are Japan and Korea, despite our stereotypes of Asian countries as male-dominated.)

One of my Facebook friends wrote about this piece: “Guys, Sheryl tells us to replace foreplay with choreplay ™. It ‘is real’. I am all for equality and stuff, but I feel like everywhere I look, I see half-baked pieces saying that nearly all problems in the world can be solved by ‘bringing on more women.’ Sounds more like Sherylplay to me.” As he is a white male Harvard graduate it was with glee that I was able to comment “Check your privilege.”

Sandberg’s theories are about to get a test now that Germany has put in a quota system for female board members of public companies(Guardian). If German companies continue to outdistance their Spanish, Italian, and Greek rivals Sandberg can say “Their success is attributable to the quota for women on boards.” (Thus contradicting this paper by Ahern and Dittmar regarding Norway’s quota: “The quota led to younger and less experienced boards, increases in leverage and acquisitions, and deterioration in operating performance.” (fortunately, all irrelevant when you have a country of 5 million people sitting on billions of barrels of oil)) [Separately, how can a 30% quota be justified? If there is to be a quota, why isn’t it 51%, reflecting the percentage of women in the German population? And how does this dovetail with Sandberg’s quote that “Men may fear that as women do better, they will do worse. But the surprising truth is that equality is good for men, too.”? Unless German companies expand their boards, won’t every woman who gets a coveted board job under this new quota system mean that a man must lose a job?” Is the number of jobs that are actually worth having growing fast enough that 51% can be taken by women (gender equality) and yet leave men with more of these good jobs than they had before?]

What do readers think? Could it be that all humans on the planet are so stupid compared to Sheryl Sandberg that they had not previously figured out these simple-yet-foolproof ways to (a) get rich, (b) have a successful marriage, and (c) rear high-achieving children? Can middle-class people get useful tips on how to arrange their domestic lives from one of the world’s richest persons? Can people who run companies subject to competition get useful tips from a manager who has spent her entire career working for monopolies? (U.S. Treasury Department, Google, Facebook)

At first glance Sandberg’s claims invite skepticism. But then look at the people U.S. public companies actually do hire as top managers (also this CNBC list) and it is clear that Econ 101 cannot explain what happens in the real world (see my economic recovery plan for what I would change regarding public company boards). Maybe it is time to buy more stock in German companies…

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12 Comments

  1. Izzie L.

    March 9, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

    1

    According to this story, only certain kinds of helping out help you out with the ladies. Apparently, you have to do traditional or stereotypical “manly” things

    http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/01/29/more-sex-for-married-couples-with-traditional-divisions-of-housework/

    in order to get more nooky.

    “Couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing yard work, paying bills and auto maintenance – reported greater sexual frequency.”

    Or maybe this is a pre-selected group already and doing more chores isn’t going to help?

    I didn’t know that bill paying is a male role. I believe in many societies, the woman is expected to manage the routine household finances.

  2. paul kramarchyk

    March 10, 2015 @ 3:12 am

    2

    Sheryl Sandberg is ambitious. And seems to have a hard time understanding why all women don’t have the same yen.

    Success in the business world has a lot more to do with ambition than brains. Some of the smartest people I know are content with being competent and respected in the workplace without the need for a corner office overlooking the pond. They spread their time and talents over a wide range of interests. None of which include the last car to leave the parking lot. In fact it seems that those most gifted with world class intellectual prowess (Frank Wilczek, etc.) are least likely to want top rung on the corporate ladder.

  3. Federico

    March 10, 2015 @ 6:35 am

    3

    If your mother has not told you, I shall: stop ruining everything with logic.

  4. bjk

    March 10, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

    4

    Has Sandberg actually called for more female entrepreneurs, or does her advice apply primarily to being a better networker? Women don’t take “unnecessary risks,” according to Sandberg. She doesn’t explain if there are any “necessary risks.” Judging by her vast wealth and status as just another Facebook employee, I’m guessing “no.”

  5. E. Rekshun

    March 10, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

    5

    @paul k.: “Some of the smartest people I know are content with being competent and respected in the workplace without the need for a corner office overlooking the pond. hey spread their time and talents over a wide range of interests. None of which include the last car to leave the parking lot.”

    Good point, and this describes me. Recently, my new boss (a female, MBA that likes to throw around management buzzwords) asked what my career aspirations were. I replied, “You have a happy, content employee with no desire for anyone else’s job and I plan on retiring in five years (at age 55).” Oddly, she wrote it all down in a notebook. I think I may have said too much.

  6. Anonymous

    March 10, 2015 @ 6:34 pm

    6

    “In other words, if a higher percentage of the population has a waged job, the GDP number will go up.”

    Lack of supply of labor will restrict GDP growth (hence the importance of female participation in the labor force during WWII). So it can be said that a higher percentage of women entering the work force does contribute to the expansion of the economy.

    Having said that, “equality” is for the most part a meaningless concept. How about female quotas for Congress? If some people think that quotas are fine for board rooms why not apply the concept to everything.

  7. Izzie L.

    March 10, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

    7

    E. – anything you say can and will be used against you.

    Anon. “why not apply the concept to everything” – shhh, don’t give them any ideas.

  8. Rollo Tomassi

    March 12, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    8

    “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”

    ― Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

    How many of the “the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys” do you suppose turned Sandberg on by doing dishes and vacuuming before she had sex with them back in college?

  9. E. Rekshun

    March 12, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

    9

    “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”

    ― Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

    All that dating of the bad/cool/commitment-phobic/crazy boys might put a lot of mileage on the young “Sheryl Sandbergs.”

    No thanks, I deal with too many “opinionated” women at work everyday to also want one at home.

  10. John Other

    March 16, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

    10

    I am tempted to be cynical from my initial and quick reading.

    There was a bit of a tone I felt I sensed to suggest ambitious women might get their men to be as ambitious and buy in to a kind of gender superiority by telling their men that if their man only did more chores they’d reap benefits beyond any likely outcome.

    It felt like advice from men to give lip service to their women. Oh he’s so liberal or pro equality or trying to save the planet always he must be a great guy!!!

    It lacks the substance of trying to establish cause and effect and is breathless about potential and causally very difficult to measure ephemeral bonuses in life.

    Just from my own experience however anecdotal that must be..who is of disposition to share and be cooperative is not a recent or artificial creation. There’s usually something deep in the characters of who I admire for providing their energies altruistically. Sadly I also have observed such types rarely find their equal. It seems there’s too much incentive in nature and competition throughout sex and society for those who are natural sharers to not be quickly exploited, so few survive to find equal partnerships.

    I also think that the very successful in life have a bias they often don’t perceive caused by living among the not needy. If you live in more deprived society, well altruistic behaviour seems to be rapidly bred out of the gene pool.

  11. John Other

    March 16, 2015 @ 9:24 pm

    11

    If I can add anything to my comment above, maybe it’s that I glue had some experience taking what I might say are overly educated ideas to try to sell them among the broader market.

    I mean I am in some ways over educated, am mistaken for a typical MBA by too many people. … I’m not a attorney but I get presumed to be a barrister by other barristers…I’m the product of expensive and long term education. Only the fun is that I spurned the obvious academic route, maybe because it was so completely expected of me among peers, to the point I could touch the entitlement being thrust on me. I only studied because it was the one thing my parents would relent arguing over. I skipped college and after a stint screwing up in business ( on my own and this was a more expensive eduction than anywhere might have offered in 1992) ….well I then belatedly got the idea I’d better study something as a backup. I wasn’t totally not educating myself of the situation I was in but I became quickly obsessed and put in obsessed hours. And never stopped. I became book learned in the way I’d despised too smartypants contemporaries when I was being baptised in commerce.

    Then messed up good. And was left alone in pretty normal circumstances but with no society around me with whom I might discuss ideas ” at my own level” .

    The result is I learned one thing only that seems to relate to here:

    Regular people distrust complicated reward mechanisms.

    Telling your spouse that acting a different way will reward with benefits that sound abstract from their perceived close to hand needs is difficult to impossible even when you have all the political capital in the world and the closest intimacy.

    I may be suggesting that the ideas of this book are so far from tangible and concrete even inside a highly educated relationship that you may as well whistle. I once had…it was the reason to break my most important relationship of my young life: I wanted my love to understand a particular self reinforcing loop that kept upsetting me badly and which taxed my ability to forget I’d been unintentionally hurt and act as I wanted to act lovingly. But that argument missed out any immediate benefits. Basically it was seen that I would act a certain way because otherwise my love would be unhappy so I had every reason to ignore anything which stopped me doing what made her happy in the first place.

    That’s a bit of old sad but what I’m trying to use a very unhappy time of life to explain is that a book advocating a whole change in thinking just to get a relationship to work probably is asking too much.

    The point is that my love did very well understand the theory of operations I explained but wanted me to fix the glitch instead of asking her to fit with a new dynamic.

    I may say in my defence that this was not caused by individual fault and as I’m remembering all that I think I was not wrong but have since learned better to adjust to less than ideal situations. However it was a impossible argument. But by comparison to write extensively that you should even *expect* your spouse to appreciate a abstract or even nebulous benefits loop and change their behavior to fit that …well it might just be a bit manipulative.

    Why manipulative? Because the quote above that vignettes a husband agreeing to do chores for sexual action seems to me to be seeking a Pavlovian response to a theoretical acceptance. It looks like training the man to respond to what is a theory of behaviour that he’s not evaluating directly but to be crude with his lower organs primarily. The scenario even suggests to me hints of dominant submissive play: your man will buy in to these great theories if you offer sex. And if can be tested on his knowledge. At dinner parties where you can then disdain your friends poor choice of neanderthal spouse.

    I think that if you’re arguing hypothesis of living with your love and this isn’t a normal thing, you just might beware of doing so. No matter how respected and interesting the author.

  12. Chaton

    March 19, 2015 @ 1:33 am

    12

    Like Ms. Sandberg I was an Economics major too. As someone whose husband struggles daily to pick up his laundry I can attest that choreplay is foreplay and the reverse can chill a libido like no other. That said, my first husband did a lot around the house. However, it did not make the relationship last. I always thought that at his core he wanted a more traditional girl. (They may need to do a study about female Economics majors and divorce rates…)

    I tend to think that Ms. Sandberg ignores the influence that her tremendous advantages had on her life–coming from a family of privilege, following that with Harvard (her and her brother), and marrying a guy who would become a CEO are a recipe for career success to which young women should aspire.

    She could sum up her secret in a few sentences. 1) Come from Money. 2) Attend Harvard. 3) Marry a guy who has a really good job who is not a Neanderthal.

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