Sheryl Sandberg to corporate America: Your turn to lean in

SAN FRANCISCO — Sheryl Sandberg is leaning in again.

This time she's carving out major positions on public policy issues for women and families. And she's challenging corporate America to take the lead in crafting family-friendly policies such as paid family leave, family sick time and bereavement leave.

On Tuesday, Sandberg announced Facebook has extended its bereavement leave to up to 20 days for an immediate family member and up to 10 days for an extended family member. Facebook is also instituting paid family sick time — three days to care for a family member with a short-term illness, such as a child with the flu, and paid family leave, which allows employees to take up to six weeks of paid leave within a rolling 12-month period to be with an ill family member.

"People should be able both to work and be there for their families," Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post. "We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and aging parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss."

More than half of America's 60 biggest employers offer no paid family leave or will not disclose their family leave policy, according to a study released in November by Paid Leave for the United States.

Momentum has been building for paid family leave, which allows employees — both mothers and fathers — to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or a seriously ill relative for six or more weeks. A federal law has guaranteed workers unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks since 1993. Four states currently offer paid family leave.

Bereavement leave is also limited in the U.S. Just six out of 10 private sector workers get paid time off after the death of a loved one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and then only for a few days.

"Making it easier for more Americans to be the workers and family members they want to be will make our economy and country stronger," said Sandberg, who spoke at the MAKERS Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

The announcements come as the Facebook executive and Lean In author has begun to forcefully voice her opposition to policies she says harms women and families, such as Trump's ban on U.S. funding to overseas health providers that provide abortion counseling and the more recent immigration ban.

Sandberg, who is on the verge of publishing a new book on grief, was criticized for remaining silent in the early days of the Trump administration and was missing in action as women around the country marched for their rights.

Ever since the bestseller Lean In prompted a global debate about women in the workplace, Sandberg has rarely been absent from public debate. She has staked her claim as corporate America's top feminist, championing public and corporate policies that she says level the playing field so women can scale the rungs of corporate America.

"There have been many times when I've been grateful to work at companies that supported families. When my son was born and I could take time off to focus on him. When my daughter came along and I got that time all over again. Every time one of them got sick, both my husband Dave and I had the ability to leave work to take care of them so we could decide whose turn it was to supply the patient with ginger ale," Sandberg wrote Tuesday.

Sandberg's advocacy for bereavement leave comes from a poignantly personal place. Her husband, 47-year-old technology executive Dave Goldberg, died suddenly in May 2015.

"This is personal for me," Sandberg said on stage at the MAKERS Conference.

This chief operating officer of a company that thrives on its 1.8 billion users sharing their lives online chose to grieve in public. Her new book, Option B, is about healing and resilience in the face of tremendous personal loss. Option B refers to the advice a friend gave Sandberg when she despaired that her husband was not alive to take part in a father-child activity.

"We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave," she wrote in a Facebook post in June 2015. " I cried to (my friend), “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the (expletive) out of option B."

Sandberg credits Facebook's flexible workplace policies with helping her after her husband's death.

"Amid the nightmare of Dave's death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility," Sandberg said. "I needed both to start my recovery. I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn't be."

Facebook has positioned itself at the forefront of a growing movement in the tech industry to provide family friendly perks. It offers four months of paid time off for new parents for childbirth and adoption. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took two months off after his daughter Max was born.

USA TODAY


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