Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Urges Gender Diversity in Workplace

By Vanessa Fuhrmans and Khadeeja Safdar Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and other business leaders warned companies against complacency in the effort to advance women in the workplace, arguing that there was a business imperative for committing to gender diversity.

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Ms. Sandberg, speaking at a New York event hosted by The Wall Street Journal, in part blamed the "tyranny of low expectations" for the still-low number of women in senior leadership roles.

She pointed to new data from LeanIn.Org -- which was founded by Ms. Sandberg -- and McKinsey & Co. showing that at companies where one in 10 senior posts is filled by a woman, 50% of men and 33% of women believe that is sufficient.

"This has been happening for so long, on gender and on race, that we actually don't think more is achievable," she said.

McKinsey Chief Executive Dominic Barton said he was worried that slow progress in boosting the number of women in managerial ranks would discourage companies from pursuing more ambitious targets. But, he added, the new data showed a glimmer hope: There was a difference in the outcomes between companies "who really went for it and those who did it in an average way."

Women make up 20% of C-suite roles, up from 19% last year, according to the Lean In and McKinsey data. Mr. Barton proposed that companies set their sights on raising that percentage to 33%.

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"If you don't stretch, you don't break orthodoxy," he said.

The 2017 Lean In and McKinsey study found that, despite no shortage of efforts, companies on the whole have made little progress in boosting the representation of women in the managerial ranks.

Though roughly equal percentages of men and women make up entry-level jobs, men outnumber women nearly 2 to 1 by the first rung up the management ladder, a gap that widens with every step toward the top. The drop-off is even more acute for women of color, who make up less than 4% of senior jobs.

The study is one of the largest efforts to capture the perceptions and experiences of both working women and men, and includes information from 222 companies and 70,000 of those companies' employees in North America.

Several executives laid out specific goals for their own companies. Brian Cornell, CEO of Target Corp., said one of his was that he wanted to hire more women as engineering interns to feed the pipeline of women in technology jobs. Ulta Beauty Inc. CEO Mary Dillon said she aimed to close the gender gap in management ranks to better reflect the U.S. population at large, while Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman said he would seek to lift more women to leadership roles.

"It's great to talk about it and look at the feedback," Mr. Cornell said, "but you have to set metrics, you have to set objectives to move things forward."

Ms. Sandberg and other executives also condemned the recently alleged sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and those who had tolerated the behavior. Mr. Cornell said he was troubled that so many people kept the alleged misconduct a secret for years and didn't feel comfortable coming forward.

Such behavior can only be deterred by "disastrous consequences," Ms. Sandberg said.

Write to Vanessa Fuhrmans at vanessa.fuhrmans@wsj.com and Khadeeja Safdar at khadeeja.safdar@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 10, 2017 23:15 ET (03:15 GMT)