Sheryl Sandberg's Advice for Young Women: 'Don't Do Your Boyfriend's Laundry'

Morgan Smith
·4-min read

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

Equality starts at home — especially the laundry room, according to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

“I’ve been saying this forever, and I’m going to keep saying this: we need a better balance of work in the home,” Sandberg, 51, told PEOPLE Digital Deputy Editor Charlotte Triggs. “For any young women, if you have a boyfriend, and you’re about to go do your boyfriend’s laundry: don’t do it! You’re going to be doing that guy’s laundry for the next five decades.”

Sandberg spoke about the new challenges and stressors working women are facing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with Triggs during the virtual launch event for #StraightTalk, a new interview series organized by the employee resource group Women @ Meredith. Meredith is PEOPLE’s parent corporation.

One in four women are contemplating downshifting or leaving the workforce, and among mothers who reported thinking of those options, a majority cite childcare responsibilities as the primary reason, according to this year’s annual Women in the Workplace report from Sandberg’s Lean In and McKinsey & Co.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Sandberg said, many women worked a "double shift" — first at work and then another while attending to their family's needs at home. Now, while working from home, balancing their kids' online classes, caring for sick relatives and doing housework, they're working a "double double shift,” Sandberg said.

The report found that the average woman is doing about 70 hours of housework and childcare per week, while the average man completes 50 hours of the same work.

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“Women are getting crushed by the workload at work and the workload at home,” Sandberg noted. “This is a crisis, and we need to pick our heads up and see it before it erodes all the gains we’ve made over the past decade.”

Lauren Melillo Sheryl Sandberg (bottom) with Women @ Meredith co-chairs Charlotte Triggs (left) and Vicki Brakl (left)

The report also found that women — in particular women of color — were more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the crisis. Additionally, many Black women said they did not feel they had sufficient allies in the workplace, and fewer than one in three Black women reported having a manager check in on them in light of recent racial violence.

Sandberg called the disparity “totally unacceptable.”

“The way bias works, we have gender bias and we have race bias, which is why women of color face both,” she added. “[A promotion] becomes even more challenging.”

The report called on Black women’s workplaces to address the distinct challenges Black women face head-on, and foster a culture that supports and values Black women.

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Meanwhile, their findings state that for every 100 men promoted to a managerial role, 80 white women, 58 Black women and 71 Latinas received similar promotions.

Sandberg attributed this gap to widespread, ingrained gender stereotypes.

"When a man succeeds, we believe it's because of his core skills,” she said. “When a woman succeeds, we believe it's because of getting lucky, working hard or help from others.”

She continued: “Now why does that matter? It matters because if you're succeeding because of your core skills, those skills are there and you can promote the person. But if you're succeeding because of help from others or getting lucky, you can't count on that — that's why men get promoted based on potential and women have to prove it. We have to go all the way down to see where the problems are starting and where they're starting is that ‘broken rung,’ that first promotion to manager.”

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So how can companies better support female employees? And how can women better advocate for themselves both at work and home?

Sandberg recommended that companies re-adjust their performance criteria to account for employees’ added responsibilities and time constraints during the pandemic and help them prioritize different tasks.

As for the burden of extra housework and childcare responsibilities, “have the hard conversations with your partner to do more with your kids,” she said.

She continued: “When you get into jobs like mine, you get to affect more change. Like at Facebook, we cover the cost for women who want to freeze their eggs and I was able to make decisions like that because I got to this position. So one of the reasons, if you’re teetering to stay in, is you stay in and then you get to be the one that makes these decisions, and that’s really important.”