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Required reading: breaking the glass ceiling

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wants women to break through the glass ceiling. Can the right books help?


Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, says she wants women to climb higher, achieve more recognition and be paid more at work. To that end, she’s written Lean In, part feminist manifesto, part memoir of how she scaled the heights of Silicon Valley – Sandberg was a vice president at Google before joining Facebook – and became one of the most powerful women in business.

US Census statistics show that in 2011 men earned on average US$48,202 (Dh177,000) and women $37,118. So after decades of hammering, why has the glass ceiling still not been shattered?


For context, turn first to the book that’s been namechecked more than any other during the media furore around Lean In. That is, The Feminine Mystique (Penguin, Dh72), Betty Friedman’s 1963 feminist classic in which Friedman argued that many women unconsciously conform to a ready-made belief system that labels them wives, mothers and homemakers, rather than corporate chief executives, astronauts or anything else. Friedman inspired a generation of feminist thinkers to write books such as The Equality Illusion (Faber & Faber, Dh56), in which the academic Kat Banyard argues that feminist struggle is as necessary today as it was in 1963. More than 96 per cent of executive directors of top UK companies are men, says Banyard: the answer, she says, is grassroots action to force change.

Other contemporary feminist writers take a different view. In The End of Men (Viking, Dh72), the US journalist Hannah Rosin says women are decisively in the ascendant and declares “the end of the age of testosterone”. Men may still earn more than women, says Rosin, but in the US, young, single women earn more than young, single men: the sign of a change that’s set to transform our economies, and our lives, in the years ahead.

If the glass ceiling remains intact today, then, it will soon be smashed into a million pieces. And with the ambitions of millions of women liberated, the race to the top will only intensify in the years ahead: whether you’re a woman or a man, see the psychologist Oliver James’s Office Politics (Vermilion, Dh111) for tips on how to plot, lie and scheme your way to the top.





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