Please Don’t Speak For Me, Sheryl

I almost lost my mind while watching a brief clip of an interview Arianna Huffington did with Sheryl Sandberg...Then, subsequently read her New York Times piece entitled, “Speaking While Female.”... Like, I may have yelled at my computer screen in reaction to the content. In the clip and referenced article, which was embedded in a Huffington Post piece entitled, “Sheryl Sandberg: ‘It’s Still Hard to Speak In a Professional Setting As a Woman,” what I heard her say was, in order for women to feel more comfortable speaking up in Corporate America, everyone OTHER THAN WOMEN has to change. And, since the message I heard is perpetuating the notion that we, as women, are (still) victims, I would like to ask that you, Sheryl, please not speak for me. I don’t feel like a victim. I have never felt like a victim (except for when I actually was one, growing up in my crazy, dysfunctional home.) I was never scared to speak in meetings and never felt ignored. That’s not to say I haven’t been ignored, I just don’t think I took it personally and probably spoke up about it because I think it’s rude.

This is what you said that made me go a little bit crazy...

”Even with all the progress we’ve made, it’s still really hard to speak in a professional setting as a woman. Women face real barriers….As human beings, we are incredibly sensitive to people’s reactions. If you watch someone say something, you see how the person reacts...the person who’s speaking reacts. And, as women, we kind of fall in one of two paths…..either we speak out aggressively and affirmatively and are results focused and then people often think, you know, she’s not nice. I don’t like her. She’s too aggressive. OR, we’re quiet and spoken over. We’re interrupted more, we take more notes in meetings, we sit in the back more and that’s really hurting women’s ability to get to leadership.” And, then she goes on to ask that people start calling on women first “Obamastyle” (as he did when he only called on female reporters in his most recent press conference) so that women get to speak.

For reference, here are the links to the Huffington Post interview and NY Times articles:

HuffPo clip: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/23/sheryl-sandberg-davos_n_6506188.html

NY Times piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/opinion/sunday/speaking-while-female.html

First let me say that, as much as I love Obama, what he did by calling, only on women, was an incredibly calculated, yet effective, PR move. I mean, it created the phrase, “Obamastyle,” for you to use to support your argument. Next, I’d like to ask...

  • Are ‘we’ as human beings all really incredibly sensitive to people’s reactions?
  • If ‘we’ are, why is it so and, what does it cost us as human beings? Maybe just some of us are somewhat sensitive and some, not at all?
  • Could ‘we’ ever include men?
  • Do ‘we’ really only fall into only two paths? Either aggressive or quiet?....That’s it?

Maybe there are some other options?

I believe the message is antiquated and not addressing the real problem at hand, which is a matter of confidence and authenticity…. period. I also believe confidence and authenticity or, the lack there of, is gender neutral.

Confidence and authenticity come from within. Both come with self-examination, self-awareness and self-acceptance. Both come from allowing ourselves to be who we are, not who we THINK we should be. Faking it, overcompensating or throwing in the towel if they are lacking, are unfortunate alternatives and glaringly obvious...even on an unconscious level.

Instead of perpetuating the notion that women are being victimized, how about offering a solution to help them help themselves? Why not have a dialogue about this, and not state it’s everyone else’s problem to fix? So, instead of speaking FOR women in a way that makes them seem like damsels in distress, why not ask: 

  • Why do some women feel this way?
  • Why use the word aggressive, not assertive?
  • Do you, Sheryl, feel uncomfortable when you speak up?
  • Did you once, but don’t anymore? And, if not, what changed? This could be helpful for women to know.
  • What are ALL of the variables that exist in these male/female scenarios? Is it not possible that, as with some men, not all questions or talking points made by all women are good points? For example, some people speak up in groups because they want attention, not because they have something relevant to say. Women AND men.
  • Why is being “liked” even an issue? It’s not for most men. (Remember that line from A League of Their Own about no crying in baseball?)
  • Is it possible that women’s feelings of self-consciousness come across when they speak up, thus making them less engaging? This must also happen when men speak too, no?
  • Do women feel the need to overcompensate for their lack of confidence by being aggressive? Is it like the 2015 equivalent to wearing shoulder pads, as women did in the 80s to appear, in physique, more like men?

And, with regard to all of these rude men…

  • Would it not be beneficial to ask them why they think it’s ok to speak over a woman when she starts to speak? There could be an overcompensation (confidence issue) there too.

In your book, you asked women to lean in. Did you ask women to ask themselves why they don’t? In your NY Times piece, you cited studies that support your argument but, what about studies on the importance and effectiveness of confidence?

I am entirely for equality, across the board, and for getting rid of discrimination. I absolutely believe that the equal pay issue needs to be resolved. However, I don’t think attaching women’s feelings of inadequacies and self-judgment helps this issue. In fact, I believe it is harmful in that it promotes the idea that it is not in our (women’s) power to help ourselves. Everyone is scared of something. Everyone struggles with limiting beliefs about themselves and life in general. Why not figure out a way to bring these internal struggles to light? Don’t just lean in, start to work from within.


Danielle Gibson works with people who want to "speak up." That is, they want to have the ability to be more direct/straight forward. She believes confidence, authenticity, good communication skills and paying attention to one's intuition are essential components. And, they serve as some important focal points in her coaching practice. To contact Danielle, please email: danielle.gibson@gmail.com