It’s been less than a month since Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” and I’ve already had two women bring up her name in salary negotiations.
I’m not alone: Other editors whom I asked this week told me that women who worked for them had brought up the book — its broadly empowering message, and its specific advice on pushing for a raise. It’s a concrete, if anecdotal, suggestion that Sandberg’s high-profile effort to start a movement is having real consequences on a dynamic that’s well known to managers and backed by volumes of research: Women often ask for less money than they could get, and negotiate less aggressively than men.
The new phenomenon of women invoking Sandberg in salary talks “has happened here,” New York Times editor Jill Abramson said in an email. “I do think the book and all the attendant publicity have emboldened some women to speak up more directly about compensation, which is, of course, a welcome development.”
Some argue that women negotiate less aggressively because they don’t get the same treatment as men when they play hardball, and in fact Sandberg suggests in her book that women asking for a raise “suggest that someone more senior encouraged the negotiation.” In some of these situations, Sandberg herself seems to fill that role. The first person to bring up the book to me was an senior editor here who had begun work on a new project. After we finished discussing her new role, she got out of her chair, and then stopped and said: “Sheryl Sandberg would be disappointed in me if I didn’t ask you about money.”
She said invoking Sandberg helped her overcome “the hardest thing for me about asking for a raise — the social awkwardness of it.”
“I wasn’t worried you’d think I was too aggressive for asking about money, I just felt like I needed to get over the hump of feeling weird about it, and referencing Sandberg gave me kind of a script to follow,” she said.
Not long after that, I was talking to another young woman about a job, and made her an offer that amounted to less than she was currently making. She replied that she’d love to consider it, but that “Sheryl Sandberg wouldn’t approve.” (Both women said I could use the anecdotes here if I didn’t mention their names or salary details.)
For the well-educated, ambitious women who work in media and start-ups — Sandberg’s first audience, and perhaps the most natural one — at least, Lean In has had a startlingly immediate effect.
“This last week alone I had three coffees with friends and colleagues — all women — to discuss negotiating for a raise and/or promotion,” said Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a former Financial Times reporter who works for a technology company in New York City, and hosts events for women in technology and media. She said other factors driving that conversation include the salary information now available on sites like Glassdoor and the Levo League’s #ask4more campaign on Twitter.
“The day after I finished Lean In I emailed my boss and asked for a meeting to discuss what other challenges I could take on at work,” said an editor in her 20s, who added that the phrase is now ubiquitous. “The phrase ‘lean in’ is now in constant rotation with my friends and colleagues. We use it as a joke — who wants the last hot dog? lean in! — but also as shorthand for going after what you want, whether it be at work, with a partner, etc. It’s a reminder to be confident, to stretch yourself, to take that extra step even if it’s scary.”
In media, as in other industries, studies have found that women make less than men for the same work. A survey of the magazine industry, for instance, found that women working as managing or senior editors earned an average of $58,200 in 2012, while men in the same positions earned $63,600, though those gaps had narrowed substantially since a similar survey in 2008.
But if the trend is widespread, it’s not utterly universal, and there are other reasons — in the media business in particular — that women (and men) might not be asking for raises.
“I think, in these weird days for media, people are just happy to be working — nobody’s asking for raises at all,” said New York editor Adam Moss.
With additional reporting by Anna North