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Sheryl Sandberg: Tech Executive, Best-Selling Author, Women’s Advocate

Sheryl Sandberg sitting while being interviewed on a stage.

Image: JD Lasica/Socialmeda.biz via Creative Commons/Flickr

Sheryl Sandberg is best known for her books, especially the 2013 business best-seller, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Her jobs as an Treasury Department analyst in the Clinton administration, in global sales and operations with Google and, currently, as Chief Operating Officer at Facebook gave her the business credentials to stand toe-to-toe with any executive in the world.

Yet, for all her impressive business experience, her celebrity is based on her willingness to speak out on behalf of women in the corporate world – and to stand up for the causes she believes in.

With her book “Lean In,” Sandberg assumed a public leadership role as an advocate for women in the workplace. Her book shone light on the dearth of women in high-level leadership roles in corporations and government, and defined the gender barriers that historically have kept women out of the C suite.

In her book, she acknowledged the difficulties women still faced in breaking down historical barriers, and explained that men, too, are limited by societal expectations. By “leaning in,” Sandberg asserted, women could pursue greater corporate or governmental power while maintaining their identities as caregivers and organizers at home.

Sandberg’s life was touched by personal tragedy when her husband of 11 years, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, died of complications related to heart arrhythmia in 2015. Sandberg and Goldberg had a son and daughter, and Sandberg’s 2017 book, the best-selling “Option B,” was written as a guide for navigating grief and creating resilience in the family.

The Washington, D.C., native grew up in Miami and graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in 1991. She then moved on to Harvard Business School, where she earned an MBA with highest distinction in 1995.

Career Path

Sandberg’s early career experience came in 1996-2000 as an assistant to U.S. Treasury official Larry Summers, who was one of her instructors at Harvard. She joined Google in 2001, and was that company’s Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations until March 2008.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hired Sandberg in March of ’08 to handle the “business” side of Facebook, while Zuckerberg focused on development and innovation. She was added to the social media network’s Board of Directors in 2012, two years after leading the company to profitability for first time in 2010.

The publication of “Lean In” propelled her to international celebrity status and boosted her activist bona fides. After a decade with Facebook, Sandberg is as well known for her work as an outspoken advocate for women as she is for her considerable business acumen.

Leadership Style

One of Sandberg’s early goals as Facebook COO was to create a more congenial corporate culture. She held personal conversations with hundreds of employees, something Zuckerberg had not done.

The idea was not to create a “softer, gentler” atmosphere at Facebook. It was to learn about the company’s people as she attempted to transform Facebook’s business model on a global scale.

In one of her many keynote addresses over the years, Sandberg expressed what she called the “best advice” she ever got: “Stop being an idiot. All that matters is growth.” This was told to her by Google chairman Eric Schmidt, and she carries that philosophy with her to this day.

Words of Wisdom

From one of Sandberg’s TED Talks, given in 2010 at the TEDWomen Conference:

  • “Women systematically underestimate their own abilities.”
  • “No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table. And no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve success or they don’t even understand their own success.”
  • “Believe in yourself. Negotiate for yourself. Own your own success.”
  • “Your job needs to be challenging. It needs to be rewarding. You need to feel like you’re making a difference.”
  • “Don’t leave before you leave. Stay in. Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the very day you need to brake for a child. And then make decisions. Don’t make decisions too far in advance, particularly ones you’re not even conscious you’re making.”
  • “I think a world that was run where half of our countries and half of our companies were run by women would be a better world.”
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