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An Open Letter to Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook and Author of Lean In

Release Date: 
Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear Sheryl Sandberg,

You have challenged your audience to Lean In and ask themselves: "What would I do if I weren't afraid? And then go do it." Girls have to see it to be it, but when it comes to role models with a diverse range of careers, girls still have far too few. Women engineers are a rarity, and women make up just 17% of Congress and less than 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

Nearly all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in science, math, and technology, but girls and women continue to lag in these crucial fields, particularly “hard” sciences like physics and engineering. Women of color are even less likely to enter these careers.

Instead, women continue to be clustered in so-called pink-collar jobs, such as secretarial, cosmetology, retail, and waitressing. These jobs are vital to our economy but often have lower pay and benefits than those in the male-dominated, skilled trades or jobs in the sciences. And it adds up.

The average college-educated woman earns $650,000 less than a male peer over a lifetime, not counting lost retirement funds. By the time they reach old age, women are twice as likely as men to live in poverty.

This changes when a girl is exposed to new possibilities for her future in meaningful ways. It can be putting a girl in a summer college campus program when no one in her family has gone beyond high school, or introducing her to an architect who sparks an interest in physics. When girls are inspired, they are unstoppable.

Your courageous voice as a successful Fortune 500 woman executive is also the voice of a new generation. And this speaks volumes to how you weren’t afraid to base the foundation of Lean In with research-based examples of how gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies.

My favorite examples quoted from your book:

  1. Leadership - "Messages sent to girls can move beyond encouraging superficial traits and veer into explicitly discouraging leadership. When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy."
  2. Stereotype Threat - "Stereotype threats discourage girls and women from entering technical fields and are one of the key reasons that so few study computer science."
  3. Academic Gains and Careers - "Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself - traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting. This may explain why girls' academic gains have not yet translated into significantly higher numbers of women in top jobs.”

Girls deserve a safe, positive space to explore their talents, discover new ones, and learn from mistakes. Thank you for leaning in and encouraging women and girls to be bold and dream the possible dream. YOU are an extraordinary role model for our girls.

Yours truly,

Victoria Waterman, CEO Girls Incorporated of Worcester