Corporate America and the military are sexist and show racial bias, a leading businesswoman told cadets Friday at the Air Force Academy.
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," told a crowd of nearly 3,000 cadets that society tells women they are less competent and capable. She described the military as one of "the worst" organizations for bias during a 30-minute speech.
"Women and minorities face barriers white men don't face," she said.
Sandberg has become a leading figure of modern feminism with arguments that women should fill half of corporate boardroom seats and men should do half of the stay-at-home child rearing. Detractors have said that Sandberg's Lean In pitch shatters traditional gender roles driven by biology and that her perspective is one borne of privilege, as a wealthy technology entrepreneur.
But she's not apologizing.
"We systematically overestimate men and underestimate women," she told the crowd.
The military and the Air Force Academy are investing in Sandberg's ideas. The academy has pledged to encourage "Lean In Circles" where small group of cadets will focus on her vision of total equality through discussion.
"Lean In is something that can energize both genders," said Col. Carrie Bausano, who heads climate and culture programs for the academy's cadets.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has called for an officer corps that's one-third female. Part of that effort includes leaning on Sandberg's Lean In teachings.
Cadets have started six Lean In Circles, and dozens more are expected to form in the wake of Sandberg's Arnold Hall lecture.
Cadet Rebecca Vickers, a senior, said her classmates are excited about the Lean In groups.
"It will allow us to bridge across gender, cultural and economic issues," she said.
Sandberg said the academy's women will lead the charge toward bringing her brand of equality across the nation.
"You fight for equality with every step you take," she said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240