Author and Facebook Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg exhorted a Stanford audience Tuesday to stand up and do the "hard work" of ending gender stereotypes.
Sandberg, whose book, "Lean In," tops the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, told the mostly female crowd to "believe in yourselves, aim high and understand that you can lead."
Men, she said, should be encouraged to be more nurturing and take greater responsibility for household duties.
"The blunt truth is, men still run the world, unequivocally," Sandberg said, citing statistics on the dearth of women in senior political and corporate leadership around the globe.
Trends for women in leadership rose from the 1970s until 2000 but have been "basically flat" for the past decade.
"This isn't just for finance and technology, it's every industry," Sandberg said.
"I believe (women) have internalized these stereotypes, and they're holding us back and I don't feel like anybody's talking about it.
"We need an open dialogue about what's holding women back."
Sandberg urged people to form "lean in circles" -- groups of eight to ten women and men who meet monthly, like book clubs, to trade stories, discuss educational topics posted on Leanin.org and push one another to achieve goals.
"Working in the home, raising kids, is really important work," she said.
But she said women tend to sabotage their own careers prematurely by compromising their ambition even before they have children.
"I'm not saying it's easy to do both (career and child raising) or that this is the right choice for everyone," she said.
"I'm saying that the best thing women can do, and men, is to keep options open … and make the choices when you have to make them, not years before."
As recently as a few years ago, Sandberg said she did not think of herself as a feminist. As a young college graduate two decades ago she anticipated there would be full equality by the time she reached her current age, 43.
But as a top manager at Facebook and Google over the past decade she began noticing tendencies among the people working for her: men continually pushed for promotions, saying they could do more and women -- including Stanford graduates -- tended to be more hesitant and less sure they were "ready."
After going public with that observation in a 2010 TED talk, she was flooded with emails from women who said they'd been inspired by her talk to step up and successfully argue for something -- a raise, a better teacher for their child.
"That's why I did this (book)," she said. "I think the conversation needs to continue."
Research shows that, compared to men, women in many instances do not feel as self-confident, and "self-confidence is a major determinant of what we can do," Sandberg said.
Even as a senior executive, she herself has to work to "correct for" her own tendency to be less confident than male peers.
"I just wrote an entire book about women having more self-confidence -- for two years -- and this still happens to me," she said.
If stereotypes -- such as ambitious women being labeled as "too aggressive" -- are discussed openly people will be aware of them and can pro-actively "correct" for them," she said.
"We think if we bring women and men together around gender issues, provide education, skills and tools and give people in-person and online support from circle members who can be peer mentors, we can change things one by one by one," she said.
Sandberg's talk was the third annual Jing Lyman Lecture sponsored by Stanford's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
Lyman, the widow of Richard Lyman, who was president of Stanford from 1970 to 1980, "connected, fueled and inspired the women's movement at Stanford from the 1960s onward," said sociologist and Clayman Institute Director Shelley J. Correll.
Tickets to Sandberg's free talk, set in Stanford's 587-seat Cemex Auditorium, were gone within three minutes of when they became available on the web at 9 a.m. on March 17, Clayman Institute staff members said.