Media Talk: Facebook's post-feminist Sheryl Sandberg profiled by The New Yorker
"Can Sheryl Sandberg upend Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture?" asks Ken Auletta for The New Yorker of the woman who intuitively turned down a position at the Washington Post company and left Google in favour of joining Mark Zuckerberg in his then-fledgling social media venture, Facebook, in 2008.
As chief operating officer, Sandberg handles all the work that Zuckerberg doesn't want to do: advertising strategy, hiring and firing, management, and dealing with political issues. Within three years of her appointment, the company was turning a profit and grew to 2,500 employees.
A Harvard economics graduate who penned her thesis on "how economic inequality contributes to spousal abuse", and cofounder of a group called Women in Economics and Government, who went on to work at the World Bank and for the Clinton administration, Sandberg is of the "post-feminist" tradition of a woman who believes that blame equals powerlessness, though her working mantra has been informed by inequality and she's friends with Gloria Steinem.
Sandberg says she eventually realized that women, unlike men, encountered tradeoffs between success and likability. The women had internalized self-doubt as a form of self-defense: people don’t like women who boast about their achievements. The solution, she began to think, lay with the women. She blamed them more for their insecurities than she blamed men for their insensitivity or their sexism.
In fact, the woman who oversaw the deal between Google and AOL had an issue with being called a Woman of Power, feeling embarrassed when Fortune wanted to add her to its Most Powerful Women list. Auletta notes that there are no female directors on the boards of Silicon Valley's top companies, noting that this is because few women become digital engineers. There is an entrenched sexism. But Hollywood is also to blame. Perhaps Sandberg should be the controversial star of The Social Network #2?
Her critics suggest that she doesn't understand that there is a glass ceiling, and she is buffered by the millions and billions she has made, which affords her help in her home (she has two children, aged six and three, and has a "fifty-fifty marriage" with SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg) and at work, and has had male sponsors on her side, which is unique. But she admits she suffers with guilt, just like other working mothers. On a recent Facebook women's leadership day, she told executives:
“What I believe, and that doesn’t mean everyone believes it, is that there are still institutional problems and we need more flexibility in all of this stuff. But much too much of the conversation is on blaming others, and not enough is on taking responsibility ourselves.”
She doesn't condone whiny "girl questions" and says that, "If I spend one hour talking about how I’m excluded, that’s an hour I am not spending solving Facebook’s problems." She's been described as having a low ego and not afraid of getting her hands dirty, and has a personal working style.
"I believe in bringing your whole self to work. We are who we are. When you try to have this division between your personal self and your professional self, what you really are is stiff. . . . That doesn’t mean people have to tell me everything about their personal lives. But I’m pretty sharing of mine."
Still, with Facebook, Skype and Microsoft forming a digital alliance and Sandberg's former employer Google hotting things up with Google+, the future is at once exciting and uncertain... and a bit ugly. It was reported that Facebook recruited PR agency Burson-Marsteller to conduct an anti-Google smear campaign. Sandberg admits, "We made a mistake." For Facebook, privacy and "emotionally under-developed pre-teen" usage is also an issue. Then there's China. Her approach to her own career might pathe the way forward:
"The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options... don't worry so much about balance. Work hard, stick with what you like, and don’t let go."
Read the full feature at The New Yorker and view her 2010 TED talk below.
Girl With a Satchel