Skip to main content

Originally published March 20, 2013 at 4:59 PM | Page modified March 22, 2013 at 5:19 PM

  • Share:
  • Comments (51)
  • Print

Corrected version

Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In,” the gender gap in Seattle leadership

For all of its progressive politics, Seattle needs to pick up its game on gender equality and get more women in leadership, writes editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan

Times editorial columnist

Virtual book club on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”

Join Sharon Pian Chan for a virtual book club, an online chat about Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” noon Tuesday at

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
"Our city is so smug about its progressiveness. But it has been 85 years since... MORE
A woman is running for mayor: Kate Martin. It was announced in the Seattle Times, sever... MORE
In what could be called disingenuous irony, she was ignored by a columnist complaining... MORE


In her important, brilliantly marketed new book “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, examines what’s holding women back from an equal world, one where women run half the countries and men run half our homes.

How about building a world where women run half the Sound?

Yes, let’s talk about the gender gap in left-leaning, pot-legalizing, gay-marriage-celebrating Seattle and Puget Sound.

Our city is so smug about its progressiveness. But it has been 85 years since Seattle had a woman mayor. All but one of the declared eight mayoral candidates are men. One out of three state legislators is a woman, down from 40 percent in 2000.

We have women to cheer, including a former female governor, two women U.S. senators and a majority-female state Supreme Court.

But don’t mistake breakthroughs for equality. This region falls far short of representing women across all of its offices.

Women have stagnated in reaching the CEO seat. Progress has been made at regional banks, but where are Seattle’s sisters to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman?

Representation on corporate boards? Dismal. Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, Boeing and each have two women on boards of 9 to 14 directors.

Take a close look in the mirror, Seattle. I spy a 5 o’clock shadow.

Businesses are only as successful as they are diverse — in products, skills and thinking. Government needs to represent the diversity in the community.

The problem of gender inequality, Sandberg writes, lies in institutional barriers, and in women. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when she should be leaning in,” she wrote.

Cathy Allen, a Seattle-based political consultant, says self-confidence is an issue for women she works with whether they are in Libya or Seattle. The average woman who runs for political office needs to be asked seven times before she says yes. Even here.

Courtney Gregoire, recently appointed Port of Seattle commissioner, admits she was asked seven times before she applied for the seat, even though she had a powerful role model in her mother, former Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“I immediately knew I was going to be vulnerable,” she said. “It took people to tell me, ‘You’re uniquely qualified.’ ”

When Melanie Dressel, chief executive of Columbia Bank, was growing up, she wanted to be president of the United States. She too had to be asked to lead the Tacoma bank. She spent a year weighing it.

“I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of discernment around, ‘Am I really ready?’ ”

That forced me to think back to the best opportunities of my life. Each time, someone asked me to go for it. Each time, the first words out of my mouth were: “Why me?”

The proper question for women to ask themselves: “Why not me?” Women need to ask other women: “Why not you?”

Why not Sandberg? She has been criticized because she’s too rich to understand working-class women with different ambitions. No one expects Steve Ballmer to speak for all men. But women leaders are expected to speak for everyone.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

It’s a world built for and by men. The men who run the world can help. Men need to mentor and advocate for women to fill leadership positions. Many already do. Men convinced Courtney Gregoire and Dressel to step up.

But it’s not enough. Take Your Mentee to Lunch Day is not progress. Hiring a female superstar is not progress. Progress is when mediocre women get treated like mediocre men.

It’s the responsibility of people in power to adjust their perceptions. If it doesn’t feel difficult, then it isn’t change.

The journey of a thousand difficult steps can begin with a single page. John Chambers, CEO of the tech company Cisco, gave copies of “Lean In” to all of his vice presidents.

Have you read “Lean In”? Let’s read it together. Join me for a virtual book club at noon Tuesday. Men are invited too.

Sharon Pian Chan's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is schan@seattletimes.comOn Twitter @sharonpianchan

This column, originally published at 4:59 p.m. on March 20, 2013, was corrected at 5:20 p.m. on March 22, 2013. An earlier version said eight declared candidates for mayor were men. All but one of the declared eight candidates are men.

 Subscribe today!

Subscribe today!

99¢ for four weeks of unlimited digital access.



NDN Video

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►