WATCH: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg On Why There Are Few Female Leaders

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg gave a talk at the popular TED Conference about why women are still having a hard time reaching the top of their professions, and offered them three realistic pieces of advice.

“How can we keep women in the workforce?” Sheryl Sandbergs asks at the beginning of her smart and casual 15-minute presentation at TED, the popular set of conferences led by leaders in the fields of science, art, and technology. The talk was recorded earlier this month.

The problem for ambitious women in the workplace, Sanberg says, is not (only) unequal pay or sexual harassment; it’s that, even in 2010, these women are much more likely to give up their careers for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time. It’s not only men who often consciously or unconsciously belittle women in the workplace, but it is women themselves who still underestimate themselves or give up on their career plans way too soon.

As someone who is a top executive at Facebook, and the mother of two toddlers, Sandberg knows a thing or two about keeping a cool head and balancing priorities. These are her three pieces of advice:

1 – Sit at the table

“Women do not negotiate themselves in the workforce,” Sandberg says, explaining that, for example, only 7% of women negotiate their first salary. A few weeks ago, when she hosted a senior government official at Facebook’s headquarters, the two female assistants who accompanied the official refused to sit on the big table with the rest of the men, even after Sandberg encourage them to do so. “Women systematically underestimate their own abilities” and often attribute success to external factors (the help of others, chance). Men, on the contrary, constantly attribute their success to themselves.

2 – Make your partner your real partner

This one is well known by all: working women do twice the amount of housework than their partners, and three times the amount of childcare. This means that while men still only have one “big” job, women have three. “Who do you think drops out when someone needs to be home more?” Sanberg asks. Equal amount of housework and childcare is of key importance here, and as a society we need to encourage men to do both more often. “We’ve made more progress at the workplace than at home,” she says.

3 – Don’t leave before you leave

I found this point to be her most interesting and original. It basically asks women to not anticipate having children and forming a family as forcefully and as quickly as they usually do, not only because it limits their choices before they even have to make a choice, but also because that sort of thinking gets them to start “leaning back,” often without them realizing.

“And if 2 years ago you didn’t take a promotion and some guy next to you did, and if three years ago you stopped looking for new opportunities, then guess what? You are going to be bored [at your present job], because you should’ve kept your foot on the gas pedal,” Sanberg explains. “Don’t leave before you leave. Keep your foot on the gas pedal.”

“I have 2 children, a 5 year-old son and a 2 year-old daughter,” Sheryl concludes. “I want my son to have a choice to contribute fully at the workforce or at home, and I want my daughter not only to succeed but to be liked for her accomplishments.”

You can watch the entire presentation below..

What do you do to balance family and career, and how do you keep the pressure to succeed in one or the other from getting the best of you? We’d love to hear your stories.

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