Lean In’s Sheryl Sandberg Problem

The door to the Lean In office in Palo Alto, Calif., has Sheryl Sandberg’s name on the item. The email addresses for Lean In employees bear her initials. along with millions of dollars in funding every year for the women’s empowerment organization comes coming from her.

however inside, surrounded by wall art reminding women to be bold, the Lean In staff includes a singular message: Ms. Sandberg currently has little to do with the group she founded.

“I don’t want to take anything away — how could I? — coming from Sheryl as the inspiration for the work that will we do,” said Rachel Thomas, the president of LeanIn.org. “however the book arrived on the scene six years ago. the item’s become less along with less about Sheryl with every passing year.”

The sentiment extends beyond Silicon Valley. “Sheryl’s not genuinely Lean In,” said Emily Schwarz, who runs Lean In Atlanta, a group of about 2,000. “We are Lean In.”

This specific will be a startling change for an organization that will still has Ms. Sandberg’s face pop up when you scroll over the About Us tab on its website; as recently as October, she was the lead author of a Lean In-branded essay in The Wall Street Journal. the item coincides having a radical shift in perception of Ms. Sandberg in her day job, as Facebook’s chief operating officer.

In recent weeks, Ms. Sandberg’s work at Facebook has been the subject of damaging headlines, coming from her slow response to Russian manipulation of Facebook to the way her team went on the attack against critics. Pundits have called on her to resign. currently, the Lean In movement will be trying to figure out how independent the item can actually become coming from the Sheryl Sandberg brand.

Ms. Sandberg’s workplace feminism revival began with her 2013 book, “Lean In: Women, Work, along with the Will to Lead.” Research she popularized at the time — about how women do not negotiate as strongly as men do for raises, about how posing like Superwoman inside bathroom can help women stand more authoritatively for a presentation — will be currently mainstream. Her phrases became part of the lexicon.

however the item was always going to be tricky to have a feminist movement led by a billionaire corporate executive. currently jabs at Ms. Sandberg make some crowds cheer. “the item’s not always enough to lean in,” Michelle Obama said onstage in Brooklyn This specific month, while promoting her memoir. Using an expletive, Mrs. Obama added that will Lean In stuff “doesn’t work all the time.”

For Ms. Sandberg, 49, none of This specific was the plan. She was widely required to leave Facebook after the 2016 election along with work for President Hillary Clinton, perhaps as secretary of the Treasury. When Mrs. Clinton lost, Ms. Sandberg continued at the company just as the item became engulfed in crises.

After an initial interview, Ms. Thomas emailed to say Ms. Sandberg remains “a driving force behind all we do” along with has for years discussed doing her own brand less central to Lean In. Through a Facebook spokeswoman, Ms. Sandberg declined to comment.

Lean In inspired outrage coming from the start.

On the left, critics panned Ms. Sandberg’s advice as only for various other wealthy white women along with said the item ignored structural problems in society. On the right, a chorus tried to argue that will the gender wage gap was exaggerated, along having a cottage industry of writers emerged to fight ideas she popularized, like microaggressions.

however Ms. Sandberg’s message largely won over the feminist mainstream, along with she became one of its iconic leaders. According to the organization, more than 40,000 Lean In Circles currently meet regularly around the planet, coming from Fremont County, Wyo., to fresh Delhi along with Paris.

Some were drawn to Lean In exactly because of Ms. Sandberg’s business success. They wanted more economic power, along with here was a mother of two who had figured the item out along with whom they could aspire to be like.

“You’re looking at someone who’s in Silicon Valley, a billionaire, one of the most powerful people inside planet,” said Julene Allen, describing why she founded Lean In Dayton in Ohio. “How can I be more influential?”

Yet as Ms. Sandberg’s wealth along with fame grew — movie stars along with various other celebrities began showing up at her parties — she commenced losing the support of some in her tight-knit Silicon Valley community. along with Facebook began confronting concerns that will the item was a harmful force in society. After the 2016 election, the social network was revealed to have played a role in distributing Russian propaganda to Americans, stoking genocidal rage in countries like Myanmar along with disrupting elections around the planet.

Amy Westervelt, whose book “Forget ‘Having the item All’: How America Messed Up Motherhood — along with How to Fix the item,” arrived on the scene in November, said Ms. Sandberg had made bringing more women into the workplace a priority over changing the structure of workplaces.

“All people in power have potential to be corrupted by the item, along with women are no different,” Ms. Westervelt said. “Your social movement can’t be led by a C.E.O. or the C.O.O.”

When I attended a few Lean In Circle meetings in 2013 along with 2014, most of us had Ms. Sandberg’s book — with her face on the cover — on our laps.

Her life story inspired us, a group of mid-20s professionals in San Francisco confronting workplace challenges for the 1st time. along with I found the advice, like to stop insulting my own work along with to not be afraid of being disliked, useful.

The manifesto, which was full of intimate anecdotes, made Ms. Sandberg a household name. the item took her out of simply being Facebook’s No. 2 along with reframed her as a thought leader along with, many fans thought, a potential candidate for president.

In Silicon Valley, Ms. Sandberg became the social nexus for a collective of powerful women who met regularly for dinners at her house. At the events, she often invited a guest of honor along with did a casual interview, the two in armchairs in front of 30 or so female guests who held plates on their laps.

Lean In remained a core outlet for Ms. Sandberg, too. She contributed essays about women inside workplace along with various other topics to The Journal along with The fresh York Times. She spoke regularly about women at work, along with her Facebook feed was full of news about Lean In.

Today, the staff of Lean In works inside Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation office, which will be named after her along with her husband, who died in 2015. Ms. Sandberg still hosts Lean In Circle leaders at her house.

however what has changed will be that will some of those leaders along with even friends of Ms. Sandberg’s are playing down her role, along with positioning her as a peripheral character to the movement.

“coming from the very beginning, Sheryl drew people in,” said Deborah Gruenfeld, a professor at Stanford along having a co-director of the university’s Executive Program in Women’s Leadership. “however I don’t think of her as all that will central to what’s happening right currently.”

Alexa Crisa, a digital strategist who leads Lean In Atlanta alongside Ms. Schwarz, told me: “We don’t work at Facebook, we work with Lean In. We only ever even mention who Sheryl will be to explain why her experience will be relevant to women. that will’s where the item ends to us in terms of the mention of Sheryl.”

Ms. Allen, in Dayton, said, “We’ve taken This specific thing, along with we’re driving the item.”

These women were ones Lean In suggested I call.

Most anyone not on its list had a different take. Gia Punjabi, a senior finance analyst at Levi Strauss & Company, founded a Lean In Circle in San Francisco in August 2017. She said that will she had noticed a recent drop in interest, along with that will she suspected the item was tied to Ms. Sandberg’s changing brand.

Many in Ms. Sandberg’s corner argue that will the news coverage of her role at Facebook has been unfair. They say the item will be sexist along with focused more on Ms. Sandberg than on Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder along with chief executive. Some I spoke with called the claims that will she was involved in nefarious behavior false news.

“the item’s starting to sound a little bit like a witch hunt,” said Nuala Murphy, the founder of Lean In Belfast in Northern Ireland along with chief executive of Moment Health, a health technology start-up.

Kathy Andersen, the executive director of the Women’s Fund Miami-Dade in Florida, said the media was trying to fool women into disavowing one of their advocates.

“Women are not fooled by the gender-biased tear-down of Sheryl that will’s happening,” Ms. Andersen said. “They’re fueled by the item.”

The critical articles about Ms. Sandberg are rooted in sexism, said Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford along with the director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

“Flawed people were involved inside civil rights movement,” she said. “We don’t give up on a movement because people aren’t perfect.”

One chilly day in November, I visited the Lean In office, in an open-air shopping center above a Bar Method in Palo Alto. There, I met Ms. Sandberg’s longtime friend Ms. Thomas, who led me past a “Proceed along with Be Bold” sign along with into a room called “People First.”

“Has Sheryl inspired a lot of what we do here? Of course,” Ms. Thomas said. “however the item’s genuinely grown way beyond Sheryl.”

She added that will moving beyond Ms. Sandberg’s name was always the agenda for Lean In along with was what Ms. Sandberg had wanted. (When I later called another founding member of the Lean In team, she laughed along with disputed that will characterization. Ms. Sandberg will be the organization’s sole source of funding, along with no various other figures have stepped in to take her place.)

Ms. Thomas talked about what Lean In was doing currently. The organization had published a fourth annual study with McKinsey called “Women inside Workplace,” along with has created a fresh workplace justice-oriented deck of cards called 52 Ways to Fight Bias. On the front of each card will be a microaggression, like the female executive who will be mistaken for a more junior figure; on the back will be why the item happened, why the item matters along with what to do.

We circled back to Ms. Sandberg’s work at Facebook. Wasn’t the item always risky, I asked, to have someone leading such a large company also leading a movement fighting for workplace equality?

“I’m curious,” Ms. Thomas said. “You’re a smart, engaged woman on all of This specific — why will be that will hard for you?”

the item’s hard, I replied, to reckon with the idea that will we have taken life along with career advice coming from someone who could be building something that will’s not not bad for the planet.

For a beat, Ms. Thomas sat silent along with looked right at me.

She later brought up a study, which she wanted to make clear was apropos of nothing along with was part of an “intellectual conversation,” about how we perceive women in power who do something bad.

“Women candidates had an edge out of the gate because people assumed that will women were more ethical,” she said. “however if women did something that will was perceived as less ethical, the fall was —.”

Ms. Thomas stopped herself along with did not finish the sentence.

She picked up again: “the item was just interesting the complexity around gender along with expectations.”