Will Sheryl Sandberg’s advice for women resonate with Millennials?
Sheryl Sandberg and her nonprofit foundation LeanIn.org have recruited high-profile Millennial celebrities to encourage working women to cooperate with each other.
Sheryl Sandberg is now leaning in a slightly different direction.
The Facebook chief operating officer and women's workplace activist has shifted away from her strategy of highlighting older, female, political figures, instead opting to partner with successful Millennial women.
Ms. Sandberg and her nonprofit foundation, LeanIn.Org, initially chose presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as one of the faces of the campaign, featuring her in a March 2015 video produced by AOL's MAKERS, that also featured Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A new video, released Wednesday, features high-profile female Millennial celebrities: actresses Emma Watson, Kerry Washington, and Eva Longoria, tennis star Serena Williams, and news anchor Megyn Kelly.
The message: Women should help each other advance in their careers via mentoring. In the video, these celebrities thank the women who have helped them and encourages women everywhere to #LeanInTogether.
Sandberg's call for an end to the cold war among women in the workplace seeks to counter dominant norms that pit female workers against one another in competition for higher wages and other social rewards. Instead, Sandberg says, women ought to empower each other.
In the video Ms. Washington praises producer and director Shonda Rhimes.
“She has so much power, but she wields it so compassionately and responsibly,” Washington says of Ms. Rhimes, who has been her professional mentor.
Sandberg told CNN that these women are lending their voices to this campaign because they have benefited firsthand from the support of other women and know what a difference it can make.
One of this campaign’s goals is to put to rest the office stereotype of women tearing each other down in order to rise and replace it with a cooperative environment wherein women recognize their shared challenges.
In 2013 Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” vaulted to the top of bestseller lists, but some of the ensuing campaigns have been less favorably received.
For example, in 2015 she and basketball celebrity LeBron James introduced the idea of “choreplay,” that men should perform household chores and child care in exchange for marital intimacy, in the name of women’s rights. The campaign fell flat with Millennials.
As for Mrs. Clinton, while Millennials greatly prefer her to Donald Trump, it was Bernie Sanders who captured the political imagination of this generation in 2016, winning 71 percent of young voters in 2016, compared to 60 percent for Barack Obama in 2008.
“Overall, Millennials respect their elders,” says Dan Schawbel, a partner and research director at Future Workplace, a human resources executive network and research firm that specializes in Millennials and their careers. “We conducted two studies, in 2013 and 2014. Both show that every generation has respect for their elders and negatively stereotypes the next generation.”
He says the disconnect between Millennials and Clinton, or Sandberg, “is less about respecting elders and more about a lack of trust for our institutions, our CEOs and our leaders.”
According to Mr. Schawbel, while Millennials may relate to and trust a message from Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, “The problem is that Sandberg is older and both she and Clinton came from the political world [she worked in the Treasury during the Clinton administration].”
He says, “Sandberg and Clinton are not Millennials, and they are basically politicians too tied to big business for many Millennials to feel comfortable. It’s hard to fix that.”
“Also, leaders who are more transparent, [Millennials] will cling to and respect more. In our data, and research, honesty is the number one trait they want to see and clearly they don’t trust Hillary,” he adds. “Do they trust Sheryl Sandberg? I have no evidence either way, but because she’s such a big figurehead there might be a lack of trust because there’s a lack of transparency.”
But now, Schawbel says, “Sandberg is now doing everything I normally advise one of my corporate clients to do in order to win over Millennials.”
“I would bring in high profile female Millennials to speak for her,” he says. “I would also try and be much more transparent by letting people really see something about your life outside of Facebook and your book. What does your day look like? Let us see who you are in an unscripted way.”
The Connection Research firm has found that this is a generation that has grown weary and wary of marketing. Millennials are not won over by a hard sell approach but “want to be wined and dined.” They want to get to know you, not your script.
His best advice for anyone wanting to win over the millennial vote or support is to, “Showcase your weakness.”
Schawbel concludes, “Be transparent the way Sandberg was when she talked about the loss of her husband. Be associated with young women from both sides of the table, Republican and Democrats.”
Sandberg’s husband, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Goldberg, died in 2015. In an interview with ABC News' Amy Robach that aired Thursday on “Good Morning America," she spoke candidly about how his death impacted her.
“The hard thing is that Sandberg and Clinton are hard to relate to,” Schawbel says. “They feel they have to appear strong, but they have to show the weakness. Open up! That’s the change we really need.”
[Editor's note: This report has been updated to include the role of AOL's MAKERS in production of the video.]