Activist Workers Will "Lean In" to Sheryl Sandberg's Speech at Harvard

How does Sheryl Sandberg's brand of corporate feminism apply to working women who haven't been offered "a seat on a rocketship"? We'll find out tomorrow when she delivers the commencement speech at Harvard. Female employees at a local hotel (housed in building owned by Harvard) plan on using Sandberg's talk as an opportunity to ask the Facebook COO to back their efforts to unionize.

Workers at the Boston-Cambridge DoubleTree Suites, a Hilton hotel, will lean in two ways: (1) distributing flyers at Sandberg's "Class Day" address and (2) attending a Lean In circle along with the Student Labor Action Movement.

The alpha executive has already RSVP'd "too busy" to the latter, according to the Harvard Crimson:

Sandberg told Doubletree workers she is too busy to meet with them, according to Doubletree housekeeper Delmy Lemus, who spearheaded the online petition asking Sandberg to host the Lean In circle. Lemus expressed disappointment that Sandberg would not be able to join her and her coworkers.

"Maybe in her mind she is not going to say yes to everyday people like us working hard, and she thinks that we are low-class people," Lemus said. "But she is wrong because we work hard, and we are women."

I reached out to the Lean In foundation early this morning to see if Sandberg planned on supporting the cause, which is backed by "several" student feminist groups. The Crimson says the university has not been eager to help foster a fair unionization process either.

The last time Sandberg spoke at a Harvard graduation, it was the 2012 business school graduates. Back then she offered what could be recast as words of inspiration to women at DoubleTree.

Sandberg explained how technology could help the powerless to disrupt historical hierarchies:

Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, Twitter, a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have imagined when I was sitting where you are today and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.


Sandberg advocated for telling employers the harsh truths:

As you graduate today, ask yourself, how will you lead. Will you use simple and clear language? Will you seek out honesty? When you get honesty back, will you react with anger or with gratitude?


According to Sandberg, the time to discuss inequality is overdue:

The promise of equality is not equality. We need to start talking about this.

With her prominent role at both Facebook and the Lean In foundation, Sandberg likely fields lots of requests she can't fulfill. If the two-time Harvard graduate can't flex her muscle with her alma mater, student supporters always have the option of consulting her newly-released leadership manual, Lean In For Graduates, which includes chapters on "leaning in for women of color and millennial men."

Activist Workers Will "Lean In" to Sheryl Sandberg's Speech at Harvard

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