Sheryl Sandberg in Chicago

Sheryl Sandberg

“We’ve come a long way, baby…”

Remember the Virginia Slims campaign from 1978? Here we are 35 years later. How far have we really come?

Over 700 female attendees (and a few males) crowded the Grand Ballroom at The Palmer House Hilton on Thursday, March 28, to hear Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead, speak. The event was sponsored by Trib Nation’s “Press Pass All-Access Series” presented by Nielsen.

Melissa Harris, Chicago Tribune business columnist, opened the program, followed with sponsor remarks by Susan Whiting, vice chair and chief diversity officer, Nielsen Company. Ms. Harris then introduced Joyce Winnecke, Chicago Tribune vice president and associate editor who conducted a lively conversation with Sheryl Sandberg.

Are things equal in the workplace? Ms. Sandberg says no. Today in the U.S. women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. Only 21 women are top executives in the current Fortune 500 companies. Too few women hold senior positions in the workplace.

Ms. Sandberg has been working hard on promoting her book, in a positive light. Having received a lot of negative feedback, Ms. Sandberg wants to set the record straight. On the heated debate of what Ms. Sandberg actually meant by stating that women aren’t as ambitious as men, she stated, “Despite all of the progress that women have made, we are no where close to having our share of leadership roles. What that means is that when decisions are being made, women are not being heard. I don’t mean that there are not individual women who are half as ambitious as men. I don’t mean that there is one form of ambition, there are many forms. What I do mean, and the data is super clear, that starting in junior high school, when girls and boys are asked whether or not they are interested in leadership positions, the majority of boys say yes and the majority of girls say no. Women do not aspire to lead at the same rate that boys do. We are socialized differently.”

What can we do? According to Ms. Sanderberg, “women must not let stereotypes hold us back. Anything we want to do is within our reach. Get rid of the barriers that women face, such as, the fear of not being liked, the fear of making the wrong choice, the fear of drawing negative attention, the fear of overreaching, the fear of failure, the fear of being judged, and the biggest fear of being a bad mother, wife, daughter.”

What else can we do? Start socializing children at a young age, let girls know that it is okay to be leaders and remember there’s no need to be labeled ‘bossy’ or ‘aggressive.’ Acknowledge the problems and understand them so we can make changes accordingly. Encourage girls to lead and boys to nurture.

In the meantime, women can share their experiences along with gaining support on Lean In. Ms. Sandberg spoke about the importance of her new organization, “a global community committed to encouraging and supporting women leaning in to their ambitions.” Join in and start making a difference, one woman at a time.

Press Pass events take you behind the scenes with Chicago’s most talked about newsmakers and personalities from the words of sports, arts, food, politics and more. Hosted by the Tribune’s top critics, columnists and beat reporters, each event in this series offers a tantalizing pairing of writer and subject, in lively conversation about their work, art and pursuits. Press Pass events are tailored to coincide with significant and timely happenings.

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About Cindy Burns

Currently writing for TCW's 'Woman About Town' column, Cindy Burns covers Chicago's social scene, events, fashion, and interviews women and men who are making a difference in the world. With an M.A. in American History from DePaul University, Ms. Burns is an author, freelance writer, avid reader and researcher. Ms. Burns has spent over 20 years serving on charitable boards and organizations, and currently serves as a member of the Women's Board of the Joffrey Ballet and the Women's Auxiliary Board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. She is also an Honorary Member of the Children's Service Board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. When Ms. Burns isn't running around Chicago covering current events, you can find her biking, on the tennis courts, or hiking in a mountainous region of her choice.