SAN FRANCISCO---The number (or lack thereof) of women in technology is a constant hot topic, one that took center stage at Dreamforce '13 on Wednesday evening.
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff hosted someone he introduced as one of the most powerful leaders in business (regardless of gender): Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who discussed the message behind her best-selling book, Lean In.
When Benioff asked about the sources of the insecurities experienced by women in the workplace discussed in her book, Sandberg summed it up to two factors: stereotypes and culture.
Contrasting with the diversity in age and ethnicities she's encountered in business across the globe, Sandberg argued that the exception is that stereotypes of men and women are the same all over the world.
"The messages we send to men and women are so vastly different," Sandberg lamented.
Sandberg demonstrated this by asking attendees in the keynote audience to raise their hands if they had ever been labeled as "bossy" as a child. An overwhelming majority of those who raised their hands in affirmation were female.
"Ten years ago I would never say the word 'woman' in the workplace because I was afraid people would notice I'm a woman," admitted Sandberg, explaining she was afraid her colleagues would assume she was using her gender as a crutch.
Asserting that he read the book and repeatedly stressing his support for Sandberg's message, Benioff said, somewhat shyly, "Women are not the only ones who are insecure." He clarified he wouldn't go any farther down that road.
Still, Sandberg credited Benioff's recognition and interest in the movement -- not to mention his repeated requests for advice about how he should respect and balance diversity on his team.
"I want to have more women leaders at Salesforce. I want to have more balance between the men and women leaders on my team," admitted Benioff.
Sandberg cited that Salesforce.com itself hosts 33 Lean In "circles," or discussion groups dedicated to the concept, with more than 450 employees involved globally.
Another theme in the Lean In movement is asking, "What would you do if were not afraid?" Sandberg shared that the question arose frequently -- even when interviewing with Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg.
Sandberg said that she replied, "I would speak out as a woman." She continued that many people warned it would end her business career.
Fortunately, that has not been the case for Sandberg. Nevertheless, her story is arguably still an exception.
At the beginning of the fireside chat, Benioff asked, "Did you ever think you'd become one of the most powerful women in the world?"
Sandberg replied with a laugh, "No, of course not."
That modesty, or insecurity, sums up the message in a firm nutshell.
Screenshot via LeanIn.org