Sheryl Sandberg on how women could save Japan’s economy

Thumbs up for gender equality.
Thumbs up for gender equality.
Image: Reuters/Itsuo Inouye
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DALIAN, China—Sheryl Sandberg brought her “lean in” message to the World Economic Forum today, fresh from a standing-room only appearance in Beijing and a much-discussed meeting with regulators who have blocked Facebook within China’s borders. She described the consequences of gender imbalances in terms this audience was sure to understand.

“Every study of diversity, every serious look at development tells us that if we don’t get women to participate in our workforce, economic growth stalls,” said the Facebook chief operating officer. “You see it now in Japan. If Japanese society does not get more women into their economy, they cannot grow. And they know that and it’s part of Prime Minister Abe’s three-point plan.

“The United States will get to that point, China will get to that point,” she added. “We have no choice, we have to fix this.”

Japan is facing a huge labor shortage due in part to an aging population but also because its female population’s labor participation rate is one of the lowest in the developed world. A World Economic Forum report ranked Japan 101 out of 135 countries in gender equality, and as Quartz has reported, Japanese companies are underutilizing the nation’s talented women when their economy needs them most.

Speaking at a panel on leadership, Sandberg also fielded a question about whether there were neurological differences between men and women that might explain why so few women are present in the top ranks of major companies.

“We can find biologically based differences between men and women, and those are true, but it doesn’t mean that leadership is one of them,” she said. “We are biologically determined to be obese. We are biologically built to hold on to every bit of salt, sugar and fat we can get our hands on. Now, we’re not supposed to do that any more. And we overcome that, so I think it’s really dangerous for us to kind of make these things go back to any form of, well, people are different. Because leadership is not something that’s biologically determined.”