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Woman's family plans should be questioned by employer - Facebook boss

Published: 10:12AM Tuesday January 29, 2013 Source: ONE News

A top Facebook executive has received a raft of support for comments she made attacking gender stereotypes in the business world.

Sheryl Sandberg, the social network's Chief Operating Officer, took the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, and said that women are being held back by stereotypes that firms are unwilling to talk about.

She called for a "much more open dialogue about gender" and said that companies should be able to ask women about their future plans for a family, The Telegraph has reported.

The 43-year-old mother-of-two added that from the moment women leave school they are faced with different messages.

"Women still have two jobs in the most developed countries around the world; men have one. From the moment they leave school, the messages for women are different: "Don't you want to have kids one day?" she said.

She highlighted T-shirts currently sold in the US, where a boys' version bears the words "Smart Like Daddy", while the girls' version says "Pretty like Mummy".

"I would love to say that was 1951, but it was last year," she said." As a woman becomes more successful, she is less liked, and as a man becomes more successful, he is more liked, and that starts with those T-shirts."

Sandberg also gave an example of anxieties around the subject, citing an incident in which her own lawyer who had told her she could not publish an article on urging women to "lean in" to their careers - as opposed to pulling back from their work - before starting a family.

"Then I thought, he works for me," she said. "If someone wants to sue me because I'm talking about gender discrimination, go ahead."

One of the world's most powerful women, Sandberg is a former World Bank economist, serves on the boards of Facebook, Walt Disney, Women for Women International and the Center for Global Development.

She earnt US$30.87million (NZ$37 million) from Facebook in 2011.

At one point during the forum Sandberg asked men to raise their hands if they had ever been asked whether they should be working, given that they have children.

None put their hands up, in contrast to the several women who did when the same question was asked of them.

Can of worms?

In response, Doug Barry wrote that Sandberg has taken "a blowtorch to gender stereotypes in the workplace".

"Maybe that has something to do with how stingy US employers are with daycare services or maternity leave, or maybe it has something to do with too many people watching Mad Men," Barry wrote.

While IMF chief Christine Lagarde echoed Sandberg's argument at the forum's women-in-leadership debate.

"Women made better team players, she said: "It's because of our history, it's because of our heritage, it's because of what we've had to face," she said.

But while he supported her argument, The New York Times' Nicolas Kristof added that he was not sure other women would be as daring as Sandberg.

"She famously leaves the office at 5.30pm most days to be with her kids, but not many women (or men) would dare try that."

"Corporations should promote women not just out of fairness, but also because it helps them perform better. Lehman Brothers might still be around today if it were Lehman Brothers & Sisters," he added.

However, Heidi Golledge wrote on the Huffington Post that Sandberg has "opened a can of worms."

Golledge said that in her experience, "young women I have hired are more focused than ever upon returning to work - they have another mouth to feed and a child to educate."

She added that she has seen much more production loss from employees going through a divorce than new parenthood.

"Divorce for both males and females is at least a year adjustment period... Understanding that, should we ask potential employees whether or not their relationship is stable?" she wrote.

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