Sheryl Sandberg’s Classic Advice on How Women Can Brag Effectively Was Just Confirmed by Science

Jessica Stillman
4 min readOct 31, 2023

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There was a moment about a decade ago when Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In was the bible for ambitious, professional women. Celebrated in the press and imitated worldwide in “Lean In circles,” Sandberg was treated as an exemplary role model for women who wanted to rise at work.

But over the past 10 years, a fair bit of tarnish has built up on Sandberg’s once glittering reputation. Some of that is due to her involvement in Facebook’s repeated privacy and disinformation scandals. Part of it is that, as Michelle Obama once pithily said of the classic Lean In playbook, “That s**t doesn’t work all the time.”

Since the tragic death of her first husband, Sandberg has admitted her advice to go strong at work is a whole lot easier to implement when you have the privileges of money and support. Meanwhile, studies showing that women are actually penalized for being “difficult and unpleasant” when they advocate for themselves have continued to stack up.

So does that mean that female entrepreneurs should simply toss their dog-eared editions of Lean In in the trash? Actually no, says recent research. At least one pillar of Sandberg’s advice for women seems to have stood up to both the test of time and additional scientific scrutiny, and it concerns the all-important topic of how to brag effectively as a woman.

The perils of bragging while female

This is probably not news to many female readers, but science is crystal clear that bragging is a minefield for women at work. Men are celebrated for their confidence and assertiveness when they highlight their accomplishments and ask for what they want. Many people see women who do the same thing as violating stereotypes of warmth and nurturing and avoid or dislike them. As a result, when women toot their own horns, they’re often less likely to get what they want.

This is infuriating and unjust and really needs to change, but until that happens Sandberg offered practical advice for women to maneuver around this bias. Whenever you want to highlight your own performance or advocate for something, Sandberg told a forum at Stanford back in 2017, you should do so communally.

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Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/