The latest Sheryl Sandberg piece is “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom”.
Sandberg says “If men want to make their work teams successful, one of the best steps they can take is to bring on more women.” In other words, men are too dumb to realize how much richer they could be if they hired more women. (Related: the Kleiner Perkins partners were too dumb to figure out how much richer they would have been if they had promoted superstar Ellen Pao to partner.) Women are also too dumb to get rich by hiring women, as evidenced by the fact that Yahoo did not go on a feminine hiring spree after Marissa Mayer took the CEO job, nor did HP when run by its female CEOs (Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman). Even Sheryl Sandberg the COO is dumb compared to Sheryl Sandberg the pundit. Facebook has a low percentage of female employees and managers (Bloomberg). Her article doesn’t explain why she has elected to cut her own compensation by not hiring women to make Facebook more successful and thus boost the value of her Facebook shares.
Sandberg says “Research shows that when men do their share of chores, their partners are happier and less depressed, conflicts are fewer, and divorce rates are lower.” Presumably it would be Sandberg (previously divorced, according to Lean In) who would decide what each man’s “share of chores” should be. Sandberg adds “Couples who share chores equally have more sex.” (she does not cite “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?”, a February 6, 2014 New York Times article about research concluding the opposite, nor “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”).
Sandberg writes from her fully staffed household in which “[second husband] Dave pays bills, handles our finances, provides tech support” to suggest that other women’s husbands should behave differently than her own: “when fathers shouldered an equal share of housework, their daughters were less likely to limit their aspirations to stereotypically female occupations. … For a girl to believe she has the same opportunities as boys, it makes a big difference to see Dad doing the dishes.” Could it be that this study simply shows that girls age 7-13 perceive marriages without a division of labor as inferior overall? If a girl sees her dad doing the dishes every night she is more likely to reject the concept of marriage and therefore prepare for a life as a single person with a high-income job? Perhaps she will later change her mind and get married anyway, but the “aspirations” measured by researchers interviewing 7-13-year-olds would be toward a career without marriage or children. And that does raise the question of whether research by a graduate student interviewing 7-13-year-olds is something we should base our lives on. The interviews that I have conducted with children indicate that 35 percent of Americans are veterinarians (35 percent of children said that they wanted to be vets and it seems reasonable to assume that they followed through on their plans from kindergarten).
Sandberg shows the value of a Harvard economics degree when analyzing complex data: “Twenty-five percent of United States gross domestic product growth since 1970 is attributed to the increase in women entering the paid work force.” In other words, if a higher percentage of the population has a waged job, the GDP number will go up. Inspired by Sandberg, my personal plan for boosting GDP will be to have every child in American sign up to Uber. Then when a parent has to drive the child to a soccer game, the child will put the request in through Uber and pay the parent for accepting the trip. Where does the child get the money? The parent can hire a payroll service to issue the child paychecks and an end-of-year W-2 for doing homework. If successful, parents will also sell at-home meals to children. Then we hire the neighbor to clean our kitchen while taking a 1099 job cleaning his kitchen every night….
Sandberg says that more gender equality will make “entire societies prosper.” This U.N. ranking does not seem to support this theory. If we take “prosper” as something broader than the GDP number and more like the U.N. Human Development Index, there does not appear to be a strong statistical link between prosperity and gender inequality. Poor countries seem to rank lower in gender inequality but perhaps this is because one of the things that people like is equality and rich countries buy more of it while poor countries can’t afford it. (One interesting item in the table is that China is closer to gender-equal than the U.S., as are Japan and Korea, despite our stereotypes of Asian countries as male-dominated.)
One of my Facebook friends wrote about this piece: “Guys, Sheryl tells us to replace foreplay with choreplay ™. It ‘is real’. I am all for equality and stuff, but I feel like everywhere I look, I see half-baked pieces saying that nearly all problems in the world can be solved by ‘bringing on more women.’ Sounds more like Sherylplay to me.” As he is a white male Harvard graduate it was with glee that I was able to comment “Check your privilege.”
Sandberg’s theories are about to get a test now that Germany has put in a quota system for female board members of public companies(Guardian). If German companies continue to outdistance their Spanish, Italian, and Greek rivals Sandberg can say “Their success is attributable to the quota for women on boards.” (Thus contradicting this paper by Ahern and Dittmar regarding Norway’s quota: “The quota led to younger and less experienced boards, increases in leverage and acquisitions, and deterioration in operating performance.” (fortunately, all irrelevant when you have a country of 5 million people sitting on billions of barrels of oil)) [Separately, how can a 30% quota be justified? If there is to be a quota, why isn’t it 51%, reflecting the percentage of women in the German population? And how does this dovetail with Sandberg’s quote that “Men may fear that as women do better, they will do worse. But the surprising truth is that equality is good for men, too.”? Unless German companies expand their boards, won’t every woman who gets a coveted board job under this new quota system mean that a man must lose a job?” Is the number of jobs that are actually worth having growing fast enough that 51% can be taken by women (gender equality) and yet leave men with more of these good jobs than they had before?]
What do readers think? Could it be that all humans on the planet are so stupid compared to Sheryl Sandberg that they had not previously figured out these simple-yet-foolproof ways to (a) get rich, (b) have a successful marriage, and (c) rear high-achieving children? Can middle-class people get useful tips on how to arrange their domestic lives from one of the world’s richest persons? Can people who run companies subject to competition get useful tips from a manager who has spent her entire career working for monopolies? (U.S. Treasury Department, Google, Facebook)
At first glance Sandberg’s claims invite skepticism. But then look at the people U.S. public companies actually do hire as top managers (also this CNBC list) and it is clear that Econ 101 cannot explain what happens in the real world (see my economic recovery plan for what I would change regarding public company boards). Maybe it is time to buy more stock in German companies…
- my review of Lean In
- shorter piece on Lean In’s domestic relations chapter
- Should the SEC make it illegal for public companies to employ men?
- “Union for Radical Political Economics” in which a Wellesley professor said “[Lean In is] an example of liberating only white privileged women”: “Sandberg talks about breaking the glass ceiling but for poor women the basement is flooding.”