Series on Work-Life Balance: Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook, a mother of two, and an outspoken advocate for women leaders. Here’s one more reason she rocks: she doesn’t pretend it’s easy. “So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance,” said Sandberg in an interview for the Makers series from PBS and AOL, The Huffington Post’s parent company.

The Facebook COO acknowledged the difficulties of being a working mother trying to juggle family responsibilities with a high power job. She also shared practical things women — and, importantly, men — can do to help women succeed in their careers and make a challenging situation work a bit better.

Women should choose a spouse who will support their ambitions, not only by offering words of encouragement, but by doing half of the work at home, from changing half of the diapers to doing half of the laundry, Sandberg advised.
Women face two key challenges men do not, Sandberg argued: they experience guilt for working full time, and the more they succeed, the less they’re liked.

“I feel guilty when my son says, ‘Mommy, put down the BlackBerry, talk to me’ and that happens far too much. I think all women feel guilty. I think what’s interesting is I don’t know many men who feel guilty,” Sandberg said. “I don’t know a lot of men who feel guilty for working full time, it’s expected that they’ll work full time…I wonder if there were more shared responsibility if more men would feel guilty too and women would feel less of it.”

Sandberg noted that for years she’s left work at 5:30 PM so she could be home for dinner with her children, but has only recently started saying so publicly. Her hope, she said, is that discussing it openly will encourage others to feel comfortable doing the same.

Helping women to reach their full potential requires the world to become more accepting of powerful and successful women, Sandberg argued, adding that women face a trade-off between success and likability that men do not. “A woman, if you’re most intelligent or most likely to succeed, that’s an embarrassing thing or something that’s not considered attractive, and that’s something we need to change,” said Sandberg.

The Facebook COO was herself voted “most likely to succeed” in high school. She forced the yearbook editor to bury the title and pick someone else for the award, she said. Sandberg added, “I want to tell any young girl out there who’s a geek, I was a really serious geek in high school. It works out. Study harder.”