Sheryl Sandberg reaches students in Chicago

Sheryl Sandberg

March 28, 2013 4:30:54 PM PDT
The new book by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg sparked a national debate over women in the workplace.

Fresh from her whirlwind tour to promote her book -- Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead -- Sandberg swung through Chicago on Thursday and a private luncheon for the Economic Club. Her message was aimed at kids as well as adults.

"Closing the leadership ranks for women is not just about women who are in roles, it's about putting people in positions of power and responsibility so they can make better decisions for all women," Sandberg said.

The Facebook COO has created quite a stir about women in the workplace with her new book.

The discussion has been both critical and supportive. Nonetheless, it is a message that is pushing her book into a bestseller.

While the adults at the Economic Club debated the issue of how to improve the lives of working women, Sandberg took a detour Thursday to spend time with Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- who worked in the White House at the same Sandberg was Treasury Department chief of staff -- and talk with some local students.

"This is about believing in ourselves," Sandberg said. "This is about the girls in this auditorium knowing they can have a career in science and math, just like any boy can."

The students are building and programming robots in a special spring break program with Project Exploration at IIT.

Part of Thursday's lesson, though, was building confidence -- especially for young woman interested in the STEM fields. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

"It is essential to encourage more students, especially women and young girls, to see that as a field that's open to them," said Mayor Emanuel.

"If we are committed to real equality, which means equal opportunity for boys and girls, men and women, we can change this," said Sandberg.

Some students told ABC7 they get the message.

"Step up a little more," said 8th grader Lorren Ross. "Not even a little. A lot more."

"Despite who is around you, despite what people tell you, you need to do what's best for you and reach your goals," said 12th grader Hannan Ouyoun. "Because you're the only one who is going to invest the most into your goals."

Sandberg said those with technical degrees have more earning potential and can find jobs, even in a down economy.

The bigger picture for Sandberg and Emanuel is that more STEM education could make Americans more competitive globally.