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Sheryl Sandberg: Women have not made progress in corporate America in a decade

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Sheryl Sandberg is not backing down.

The Facebook chief operating officer's book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" goes on sale Monday amid criticism that she's too successful and rich to lead a movement. But Sandberg says her focus remains on spurring action and progress among women.

"The conversation, the debate is all good, because where we were before was stagnation — and stagnation is bad," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "And sometimes it takes real heated debate to wake people up and find a solution."

With "Lean In," Sandberg aims to arm women with the tools and guidance they need to keep moving forward in the workforce. The book's release is coupled with the launch of Sandberg's LeanIn.org a non-profit that will receive all of the book's proceeds.

The book isn't just for women. It calls on men to lend support, both at home and in the office.

"This is about who we are as people," Sandberg says. "Who we can be as individuals and as a society."

In the book, Sandberg illuminates facts about the dearth of women in positions of power and offers real-world solutions. Women, Sandberg writes, make up only 14 per cent of executive officers, 18 per cent of elected congressional officials and 22 of 197 heads of state. What's worse, Sandberg says, is that women have not made true progress in corporate America over the past decade. Boardrooms are still as overwhelmingly male as they were 10 years ago.

"While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry," she writes in "Lean In." ''This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, the voices of women are not heard equally."

Sandberg, 43, has worked at Facebook as its No. 2 executive since 2008. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lured her away from Google to help run what has since become a social networking powerhouse and formidable Google rival. Sandberg says it's only been in the last few years that she's started thinking seriously about the issues affecting working women. As recently as three years ago, Sandberg says, she would not have spoken the words "women in the workforce."

"You never say the word 'woman' as a working woman because if you do, the person on the other side of the table is going to say you are asking for special treatment," she says.

But seeing women stall in their quest for corporate success bothered her more and more. In 2010, she was asked to speak at the newly minted TEDWomen, an arm of the annual TED conference which showcases "ideas worth spreading."

Her speech was titled "Why we have too few women leaders." The video became wildly popular. It has been viewed more than 2 million times on TED's website. Yet before she gave speech, Sandberg says "a whole bunch of people told me not to." And although she'd given hundreds of talks on Facebook and social media and exactly one on women, after her speech people would ask her "is this your thing now?'"

"That was really the first time I spoke up," she says. Since then, Sandberg has come to call herself "a proud feminist."

Sandberg says it was the flood of responses that she received following the speech that got her thinking about writing a book. Some women wrote to her and said the speech encouraged them to ask for a raise. Others said it motivated them to ask for more family-friendly work hours.

LeanIn.org grew out of the book with the help of co-founder Gina Bianchini, who was inspired by a course she took at Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research called "Voice & Influence." Its mission — "to empower women and men to be as effective as possible and to create organizations where all people can thrive" — is at the core of LeanIn.org. LEanIn.org hopes to reach as many people as possible by offering materials and easy-to-replicate guidelines online, for free. Sandberg calls it a platform, which, in the technology world means something that others can take, change and make their own.

"We are a startup," Sandberg says. "We are going to see what happens, and what companies do with our platform."

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