There aren’t many women who attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, but those who do sure know how to make waves. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg told an audience this weekend that she believes employers should be able to speak freely with female employees about whether they plan to get pregnant. The question is considered taboo by HR departments (not to mention feminists) because it’s illegal (not to mention slimy) to discriminate against a job candidate or employee based on pregnancy status. Why is Sandberg, one of the top women in male-dominated Silicon Valley, in favor of changing the system?
Sandberg wants a “much more open dialogue about gender” because women are held back professionally by stereotypes no one feels comfortable talking about. “Every HR department tells you not to do that,” she said, referring to discussing employees’ plans to start families, “but we need to have a much more open conversation.”
“Think of it like a marathon. Everyone’s cheering the men on. The messages for women are different: are you sure you want to run, don’t you want to run, don’t you have kids at home? We have to talk about this.”
Sandberg said her own lawyer advised her not to publish her now-famous advice urging women to “lean in” to their careers, rather than take their foot off the accelerator before they even have children. (Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” will be published in March.) “Then I thought, he works for me,” she said. “If someone wants to sue me because I’m talking about gender discrimination, go ahead.”
Sandberg asked fathers in the session to raise their hands if they had ever been asked whether they should be working considering that they have children. No one raised their hands. But when she asked women the same question, several raised their hands.