back to article Facebook boss-lady is up the pole on the glass ceiling

In one fell swoop, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg set back the women's movement. By declaring an "ambition gap" between men and women, suggesting that "until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men," Sandberg defined 'success' in such a narrow way that most women (and men) can never attain it. …


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  1. jbk

    "The parental payoff is far greater than any stock option grant or bonus check" - speak for yourself, I can't imagine anything worse than becoming a parent! Having said that I have no work ambition either - I like a chilled life. I'm sure there's a story buried in the "my kids are my life" rhetoric in this piece but I had trouble sifting it out - can you rewrite it without the hyper-personal opinion please? Cheers. :-)

    1. Bub

      The personal view is the point of the article. The author is not saying, "Everyone must aspire to raising a family". He is saying, "ambition is a personal thing". Your ambition (chilled life), the author's ambition (a family), Sandberg's ambition (COO of major tech company) are different. He's saying it's unfair for Sandberg to criticise others for having different ambitions to herself. Of course, it's quite right to criticise organisations that have "glass ceilings" preventing the realisation of ambitions of those who do.

      Seems fair enough to me.

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Ambition is a vector quantity

    It has both magnitude and direction.

    It's almost certainly wrong to claim that one gender or another has more or less ambition (and therefore creates a "gap") than the other. The big point is that different people want different things from life. It's not just gender related, but to assume that everyone wants to rise up within their organisation and be promoted (to just beyond the limits of their abilities, according to the Peter Principle (no relation)) is absurd.

    I would suggest that for most people, who are not unbalanced, power-crazed or harbouring some deep-seated pathology the ultimate goal is to lead a happy and contented life. Not to try to earn a few gazillion more than the psycho in the next padded cell - or wood-panelled office. If a lot of people aim to achieve that through a family life, rather than their careers or "recognition" then more power to their elbows. Maybe the lack of women at the higher levels within companies is (in part at least) due to most of them not wishing to be there.

  3. Bendy

    Your welcome to not have kids

    I'd rather see people like this not reproduce. Let the people who care about family more thrive...

  4. MJI Silver badge

    There is no ceiling I know of.

    If a woman wants to get somewhere she can do it.

    Why do they need help?

    I'm sure the first British woman PM got there on her own.

    My wife reckons that people who say women need help ect (not child care but preferential treatment BECAUSE they are women) to get somewhere are insulting women.

    And I do think ambition is the key, if you want it get it, but then the above PM also managed children

  5. HairyArsenal

    "For me, personally, I need my kids to constantly remind me of what matters most in life, and how little any career attainments actually mean. They keep me humble, and happy (and usually in that order). And they are what makes my work meaningful, because I work for them, not in spite of them."

    So, before you had kids, you didn't know what mattered in life? And your kids keep you humble and happy? It sounds to me as if you grew up - plenty of us who don't have kids realise these things too, and manage to be humble and happy without them. We can also forgo career for the better things in life - but we tend to get called 'slackers' instead of 'parents' because we're not filling the world with more people it doesn't need (but that's obviously my opinion) and spending our time looking after them. Generally I agree with you though - I just hate the sanctimonious parent crap that always has to go with these arguments.

    1. Alex Rose


      I would have agreed with everything you wrote if Matt hadn't used the phrase "For me, personally" - *personally* is the key here.

      1. HairyArsenal

        Don't worry - you can still agree with me :)

        I don't see why 'personally' is the key at all - the whole story lambastes Sandberg, and then suddenly reveals why with the 'personally'. If the story had been written evenly and neutrally you'd have a fair point, but it wasn't.

  6. Hollerith 1

    Not a mother. Doesn't matter.

    As a childless woman interested in her career, I know that ambition, for men and women, can take you far, but that the road can stop easier for some. The higher I go, the more i see that the top echelons hire the 'face that fits', and that face tends to be the one staring out from the mirror. In short, straight white guys. I see middle managers from a wider catchment, but if you are a guy who doesn't have a partner who can give 100% to house and kids, and therefore prefers not to travel, or if you are an Asian guy, or if you are a white woman, if you are gay, make or female, your face doesn't fit.

    I am not having a whinge. To understand how to negotiate your way through the world, you have to understand why people want power and what their limits are. Senior managers want comfort and surety, and having clone sof themselves takes away stress and bolsters their sense that they are innately special. This allows them to do their job. This is the way it is.

    Where does that leave the rest of us? Either looking for another sort of career (I am now a consultant) or finding satisfaction in other realms: being the best dad in the world, leading excellence at a local community centre. I think those who channel their ambitions outside the corporate hierarchy live better, happier lives.

  7. Mike 29

    El Reg hacked

    By a feminist magazine. News at 11.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      hacked by feminists?

      Perhaps when headlines about Oracle CEO hint at his stripper career in the same way as Facebook's "boss-lady" gets headlines next to a pole...

  8. colinwheeler
    Thumb Down


    How is this terrible advise for society. If you choose a career, you choose a career, if you choose family, you choose family. You want to have your cake and eat it? Come on, grow up a little. There is nothing wrong with choosing either road. Get a life and stop defending your choices about having kids. Just don't have too many....we are not going to run out anytime soon and we seem to have a little bit of a over population problem.

  9. John_G


    "I need my kids to constantly remind me of what matters most in life, and how little any career attainments actually mean."

    You're own personal opinion is that career attainment means little and you wonder why someone with that viewpoint is unlikely to achieve it? Besides which, treating your own opinion of what matters most in life as being universal is impressively arrogant.

    If I decide that spending 3 months a year travelling the world is what matters most in my life I'd be hard pushed to persuade people it is unfair that I didn't make CEO by 40. I decided that science meant little to me, now I can't get a Nobel prize for chemistry!? I cannot believe that society is so unfair.

    Women don't get a fair chance at the moment. We need to look at why and effective ways to resolve this. However, I think it is also true that the vast majority of companies don't discriminate based on gender etc by intention. It is often the case that employees who dedicate more to work do better in careers and this is true regardless of whether they and their peers have children or not.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gratuitous insight into the"workings" of my mind

    Seeing a lady up a pole always makes my little face light up... go on, admit it, you thought it too...

  11. Michael Hutchinson

    Get over yourself

    Just another parent making a woe-is-me rant...

    1. Alex Rose


      I can only assume that we are reading different articles. Can you explain where Matt made any sort of "woe-is-me" noises?

  12. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    Social factors on men

    It has long occurred to me that mothers can only really have a job if they either have someone looking after the kids - professional childminders or grandparents - or they have husbands who work part-time and share the burden. That is, both parents work part-time and are home to look after the kids some days of the week.

    This requires understanding companies. In my experience, men are prejudiced against when they want to work part-time. It is not expected of them. One must achieve high office first before one decides to go part-time. Furthermore, the men themselves must be willing to work part-time. It means sacrificing material gain for the sake of being with children. Worthwhile? Yes. Painful. Likewise.

    The second requirement is available chidcare. We all know what fun finding this is.

    However, if ambitious, talented and driven women can find themselves a husband who stays at home and looks after the children, I have seen no reason, in my experience, why their sex should stand in their way.

  13. phlashbios

    It's painful....

    The day that your job becomes more important than your family, is the day that you want to re-evaluate your life and get your priorities straight.

    Remember folks, a family is for life, not just till the next pay cheque.

    1. Sean Baggaley 1

      A family is also unnecessary.

      There are seven billion people on this planet. We don't _need_ any more.

      Any bloody animal can rut and reproduce. There's nothing even remotely special about it; it's just that we're hard-wired to do this (and be tribal) that causes tiresome over-rationalisations such as that found in this article.

      It could even be argued that having a family is about the *least* beneficial thing you can do for both humanity *and* the environment.

      It's no secret that the 'best' solution for mitigating climate change is to get humans to fuck less. This is not something that's easy to sell to our fellow humans, hence all the bullshit attempts to point the finger of blame at anything and everything but our own species' instinctive desire to reproduce.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "One option is simply to go childless"

    One option is simply to stay childfree


  15. The New Turtle

    It has long been recognised that there is often a conflict between family and work lives for those that would be the highest achievers in a demanding business environment. While that is not necessarily right, if women want to reach the highest levels and compete with men then it is natural they will have to sacrifice in the same way many men have.

    Success is very much in the eye of the beholder: I have a happy marriage of 30 years and earn enough to live on. For some that would be mediocrity, for others unimaginable success.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Lacking ambition???

    I would think most of us are working at an organisation for the money. Sure there are other things but for most this is the big one... So if one has enough money what heightened ambitions exactly should one harbour towards the job?

    Our bigger ambitions lie outside work, with our family and what we really want to do.

  17. MrCheese


    She may be a COO, but she is a COO of Facebook which is already eroding society's ability to communicate and interact without the aid of Like buttons and labeling people.

    That work first attitude is utter garbage and anyone living by that mantra will almost certainly find themselves somewhat unfulfilled at some point in their lives even if you are a Bill Gates or a Michael Dell; the pride of accomplishment from building your own business and the rewarding expanse of your subsequent kingdom may be just reward but who do you go home to, will you have regrets, when did you last have fun?

    For me, like most, work is a necessary evil required to raise money to enjoy life when I'm not working; I know that I won't get as high up the ladder as I could, but life's hard enough without piling on unnecessary stress and pressure and me, I'd rather enjoy life while I've got the youth to do so.

  18. Jim 59

    The tea cosy theorem

    Ambition isn't the point. Women aren't any more or less capable than men IMO, but they are less interested in certain key fields. For example, In my old A level physics class, about half of the pupils were girls, and they did well. After that, on an Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree course, there were 60 men but just 3 women, of which only 1 (from Malaysia) completed the course.

    Add to this the biology of childbirth, and there are bound to be more male captains of industry than female. There's no need for any puzzlement or hand-wringing about this. It doesn't mean men are better than women. And it doesn't mean we should tell girls they are rubbish unless they become ball breaking super scientists/cops/soldiers as per their TV role models.

    Modesty Blaze award:

    "I need my kids to constantly remind me of what matters most in life, and how little any career attainments actually mean. They keep me humble, and happy (and usually in that order). And they are what makes my work meaningful, because I work for them, not in spite of them."

    Humbleness does not crow about itself in a national magazine. And if you work so tirelessly for your childrens welfare, how can you also say the career on which they depend doesn't matter ?

  19. lotus49

    Family > job

    I suspect that this won't be a popular opinion amongst the commentards but I don't believe that a person is or can be complete without having children. A job is what you do to put food on the table and is necessary but certainly not a fundamental part of life.

    My partner has opted to stay at home and look after our children so I get to work (yippee) but I'd stack shelves in Tesco if having children had meant that I couldn't have a career.

    When you look at the statistics for child well-being (the UK comes appallingly low down on the list of developed nations) you can see the consequences of employers' not being family friendly. It may be good for their profits but it's a disaster for the future of the nation.

    Bollock to Bloomberg and the like.

    1. CD001


      I don't believe that a person is or can be complete without having children


      Then you are not, as an individual, a complete person ... I think you'll find the fault lies with yourself rather than anyone else.

      I don't have kids and don't want kids ... thankfully neither does my partner of the past more than a decade - as she once said "... what are they for?!"

      I'm perfectly happy in myself and don't feel any kind of need for validation through offspring; and if you had children just so you could feel complete ... isn't that a little unfair on your kids? More than just a little selfish on your part?

    2. Jim 59


      Not necessarily true. As I was surprised to learsn recently, some parents can feel imprisoned and suffer from depression, even where the family life is outwardly happy, functional and prosperous.

      IMO children should be seen as an extra, a cause for celebration, an add-on, but not a right, or a magic key to personal "completeness". And saying "no person can be complete unless they are like me" is narcisistic Horlicks.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Possibly the only thing Matt Asay has ever written that makes any sense.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The issue isn't quite as polarised as the article makes out. Not all childless women want to be in the boardroom either (speaking as a woman with a career and without children).

    Of course women should be able to get there if they want, but some of us have aspirations that don't include being a fat cat OR a parent.

  22. c3

    I totally agree with her. Now she should show me how motivated she is

    by washing those dishes and making me a sammich.

    Now, El Reg, where's that icon for TITS/GTFO ?!

  23. Halcin

    Ms Sandberg has set nothing back. The whole concept is fatally flawed because while we all talk of equality, when it comes to actually doing it, no one wants to.

    Sexual equality will never be achieved while only women must "balance home and work life". Only when men are considered equal for child-care (and other domestic responsibilities) will women gain equality in the work place.

    Sexual equality means treating men and women the same. That's it. No "ifs", no "buts", no exceptions, no excuses. So providing anything to encourage more women to work, is by definition, sexiest.

    There are plenty of studies that show mothers hostile to the idea of fathers taking on child-care responsibilities, and plenty to show that fathers don't want to take on that role.

    If mothers truly wanted fathers to take on a bigger role in domestic life, why all the talk of paying for a stranger to look after a child? Surely for the emotional well being of the child any extra time with either parent is better than a stranger? (And yes there are studies that support this conclusion as well)

    Men and women are different, not better just different. And no amount of ideology will change that. So it's time we accepted the fact that men and women want different things from life.

    1. Toastan Buttar

      Sexy, Sexier, .....

      "So providing anything to encourage more women to work, is by definition, sexiest."

      The concept doesn't really give me wood.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a complete load of rubbish. Not from Ms Sandberg, but by the author of the article.

    I know many very successful women who have decided not to have children and who share the same opinion as Ms Sandberg. They view those women who chose to have their "little darlings" and complain that they are discriminated against because they're constantly taking time off when little Johnny has the sniffles and find their careers limited as a result as just whiners.

    Even those I know who have had children and yet, through hard work have succeded share the same view.

    If you choose to have children (and it is a privilege, not a right), then you should expect to make sacrifices. If that means placing a limit on your career, then so be it.

  25. Hugh Tonks

    Verbing nouns

    Since when has "preference" been a verb?

  26. 24352452435245234545

    Excellent article

    If we live by Sheryl Sandberg's standards we are doomed. I recall in her speech mentioning how she had to rush from one city to another to attend to business meetings living her daughter in tears because mommy is leaving again. And she said, we all need to do sacrifices. In my opinion, we don't need to do this kind of sacrifices by letting our kids down. They will grow selfish, cold and suffering emotionally. You can sacrifice other things, but not your family. If you make the decision not to have kids and live in transit, OK. But, to have family and treat it like this, it isan absolute disaster. Not to mention this culture of hate relationship between women and men.

  27. Cyberspice

    Ambition is not always the problem.

    I can't have children so family has never been an issue for me. I am moderately ambitious. I enjoy work and like being challenged but don't want to work all the time. However I left my previous job because I did hit the glass ceiling. Despite basically doing the job for 18 months in an 'acting' position my misogynistic boss would never actually promote me to the position. When questioned it was never my technical or managerial ability that was at issue. I also had lots of support from other colleagues who wanted me to get the position. But this guy always said "I didn't have the complete" package. In the end I decided the complete package was a set of testicles and changed company. I'm now a senior consultant in a company that actually advises me previous employer and I've watched us grow as they've shrunk...

  28. Graham Bartlett


    Too right. We're in the year 2011, and Matt is *STILL* in the old sexist mindset that either the woman looks after the kids or the couple don't have kids. He's not the only one with this attitude - most people in the "caring" professions (almost all female) share the same prejudices. (See BBC article today about midwives.) But it's a shame he can't see the log in his own eye.

    Yes, I'm the one that works in our family. My wife did English Lit, I did Electronics, so guess who's got the best pay? Had it been the other way around though, I would be fine with staying home with our baby. My sister is quite likely to go back to work as a corporate lawyer soon, leaving my brother-in-law (a software engineer) to look after their baby. I notice that the article doesn't even mention that the baby has a father.

    The problem is the "having it all" bullshit that women have been conned by, and have been trying to con the rest of the world with for some time. Get real, girls. Men didn't, and you can't either. End of story. Either you look after the kids yourself, or you get a highly-paid job. There's a continuum of kiddy-care and pay-scales between those two end-points, but you'll always be trading off one against the other. This isn't discrimination, bcos exactly the same standards apply to men.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What he said

      That is all.

  29. Sean Baggaley 1

    @Matt Asay:

    Your opinion does not trump that of Sheryl Sandberg. And opinion is all you've spouted.

    Sheryl Sandberg is quite right: if your primary goal in life is to start a family, you're unlikely to find the time to reach the pinnacle of your chosen career ladder. There are only so many hours in the day, so much energy to expend. Furthermore, hiring people to fill in temporarily for a mother or father on leave is not a trivial, or cheap, process, so it's hardly surprising businesses prefer to avoid it whenever possible.

    Furthermore, the reason why existing managers tend to pick similar people is because our species is inherently tribal. This is an evolutionary trait and there's not much chance of it changing any time soon, no matter how much you wish to complain and moan about it. You might as well complain that we can't hear dog whistles.

    The only certain way to become a CEO of a business is if you already _own_ said business. You can then have all the flexible working rules you desire!

    1. perlcat


      The problem is that children are human beings, whose upbringing takes more of a committment than the casual one she is making. We spend our time and money where our priorities are. If she can throw her child under the bus in order to rise to the top, then she shouldn't be at all surprised to find in twenty years that she has a damaged product on her hand -- the result of neglect, and child-rearing by strangers.

      When someone brags to me about how they set their family second to career, I have to wonder -- why bother? There's plenty of people that have great careers without having to drag kids into it, and I salute them for having the good character to honor that committment. I consider people like Sandberg to be raising kids by proxy -- and given that most of them pay minimum wage to the proxies they've hired, it really is no surprise that the quality is poor.

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