What Facebook’s ‘Lean In’ Guru Can Teach Troops

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Frank Franklin II/AP File Photo

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"If the U.S. military can get this right, other industries will follow," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said.

On Tuesday, a group of about 15 women gathered in one of the largest office buildings in the U.S. just outside Washington, D.C., to discuss biases against women in the workplace.

It was just one of the 24,000 "Lean In Circles" held nationwide, but this one took place at the Pentagon and had two important guests: Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Facebook's chief operating officer and founder of LeanIn.org, Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg -- whose book "Lean In" encourages women to form communities at their workplaces where they can talk about goals and challenges -- told a small group in the defense secretary's dining room these discussions could help break down institutional and cultural barriers preventing women from attaining promotions.

"Our expectation of leadership is so overwhelmingly male," she said. 

She mentioned previous conversations with female military personnel. Some had reported they were less afraid of jumping out of planes than they were of discussing gender-related issues in the workplace, she said. 

Some avoided talking about gender "for fear of retribution or seeming like you're asking for special favors," Sandberg said. 

During remarks, Carter, who called Sandberg a "staunch friend of the military," told the group it should feel free to use Pentagon meeting spaces before, during and after work hours to host and attend Lean In Circles. DOD needs to "draw the top talent from the largest and most complete pool that we can," and must therefore be a hospitable workplace for women, Carter said. Lean In Circles could "give us a way to do that best."

Putting women in leadership positions would help achieve the mission of national defense, Sandberg said.

"We know that diverse organizations get better results," she added.

And as the nation's largest employer, DOD's office endorsement of Lean In Circles could prompt other large organizations to do the same. 

"If the U.S. military can get this right, other industries will follow," she said.