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After “Lean In,” the road to workplace equality

In May 2011, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, gave the commencement address at Barnard. It was a gutsy speech, and she knew it. Because rather than falling into the traditional platitudes of graduation, and rather than following the predictable route of urging the newly minted young women graduates to follow their dreams and seek their passion, Sandberg, one of the country’s most successful female executives, explicitly told the Barnard graduates not to compromise their careers. “Women,” she cautioned them, “almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, ‘I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day.’ Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, ‘I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.’ These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t have. And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back.”

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