I’m kind of developing a business-girl crush on Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Who knew?
I wrote about her Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders TED talk on BC Business earlier this year, and devoured a more recent New Yorker piece on her the other day over breakfast. The New Yorker piece is a long, but thought provoking read, for any of you interested in women in leadership positions, regardless of whether or not the tech sector or Facebook specifically are of interest to you.
Here are the four big lessons I took away from it:
- Date before you partner in business. The article outlines how Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg met many times over several months to get to know each other and their respective philosophies about business, growth, leadership etc. better before she left a highly lucrative career at Google to join a then not-profitable Facebook. I’ve been advocating a lot lately for “dating” prior to partnering in business. The stakes are high for all of us when choosing a business partner, even if you aren’t playing with the kinds of dollars that Sandberg was, you are afterall talking about your means of making a living. Figuring out a way to test the waters or really, really interview one another before taking a joint partnership leap just makes good business sense.
- Even extremely powerful women have trouble claiming their power. (And this needs to change). The article quotes Pattie Sellers, and editor at Fortune, saying that “most of the women on the Most Powerful Women list—Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, Oprah, and many others—had a hangup about the word when we started ranking them” in reference to inviting Sandberg to their Most Powerful Women Summit. That’s hugely eye opening for me, to think of some of the de facto most powerful women not perceiving themselves that way. Seriously.
- Focus on what you have the power to change to improve women’s role as leaders. As I mentioned in my own analysis of Sandberg’s TED talk, I do take some issue with Sandberg’s philosophy around women and leadership, which puts the onus for changes squarely on the shoulders of women themselves, rather than focusing on the institutions and systems that continue to preference men. After reading this article, I’m going to go out on a limb and read between the lines of what Sandberg has said publicly on the matter and posit that she’s well aware of the institutional limitations (how could she not be, she’s a female COO in Silicon Valley for Pete’s sake), but she’s decided to focus on the things that we as woman do have the power to change and take that up as her charge. In particular, she keeps looping back to her “have a personal partner who is truly your partner” message, as one of the keys to success for women in the workplace one which I know first hand is totally vital. I’m personally also a big fan of keeping an eye on the institutional and policy changes necessary for a true powershift for women in leadership, but I’ll take her message of changing what we have the power to change right now and run with it as well. For more on her suggestions, do listen to her TED talk.
- We all still have a long ways to go. Aside from the point about powerful women not identifying as such, I think one of the most thought provoking points in the New Yorker article is Facebook’s lack of any female representation on its board. Sandberg has argued that women need to be in more positions of power like this, and so, as the author asks in the article, why hasn’t she demanded to be on Facebook’s board (or perhaps suggested a female colleague who would be a good fit)? There’s no easy answer to that question in the article, and Sandberg doesn’t seem to have come up with a good one publicly. While I will hands down commend her for the incredible work and leadership she has shown in her role, there’s obviously still work to be done here.