To call Sheryl Sandberg “an inspiration” is like calling Mount Everest “a hill” or the Great Wall of China “a fence”. Sandberg, a parent, technology executive, activist, and writer, is a role model for all women. She is the chief operating officer of Facebook, and became the first woman to serve on the company’s board.
In 2012, Time magazine named Sandberg as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She is also one of the richest, reportedly worth more than US$1 billion.
Sandberg is an outspoken advocate for gender equality in business, which is dominated by males. She encourages other women to follow in her footsteps. “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat,” she says.
So the rocket ship is there; it’s waiting for more female passengers to get on board.
Sandberg was born in 1969 in Washington, DC to a Jewish family. She was the oldest of three siblings. Her father was an eye doctor and her mother a teacher.
She proved to be an outstanding student. At 18, she entered Harvard University and earned a degree in economics. She won the Williams prize for being the top graduate in the subject. While at university, she co-founded a student organisation called Women in Economics and Government, an obvious clue as to where Sandberg’s career was heading.
After graduating from Harvard, Sandberg worked as a research assistant to a top World Bank official. But she had not finished her studies yet. In 1993, she enrolled at Harvard Business School, graduating two years later with a masters in business administration.
Now the world of business was waiting for Sandberg. She worked for a year at McKinsey & Co, one of the world’s leading management consulting companies, before moving to the US Treasury Department.
It wasn’t long before companies in Silicone Valley, the heart of the US tech industry, began to seek her services. In 2001, Sandberg joined Google as vice-president of global online sales and operations. But this prestigious – and very-well-paid – job was just a stepping stone to a position right at the top of the tech tree.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, met Sandberg at a Christmas party in 2007. It was a match made in business-heaven. In March 2008, Zuckerberg announced that Sandberg was leaving Google to join Facebook as its chief operating officer. She would be overseeing the company’s business operations and development, sales, marketing, communications and human resources. It was a big challenge but Zuckerberg thought Sandberg was “a perfect fit” for the role.
Her first book
In March, 2013, Sandberg published her first book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Since her university days, she had been keenly aware that women had to fight tooth and nail to get to the top in business and government. Only a few women had made the grade. Lean In offers valuable advice for women on how to achieve their career goals; it’s also essential reading for men who want to create a fairer society.
Sandberg says a truly equal world would be one where women run half the world’s countries and businesses and men run half the homes. Many of Sandberg’s critics say that her views on what women can achieve are not realistic.
But Sandberg says that she wrote Lean In to “offer advice [to women] that would have been useful long before I had heard of Google or Facebook”.
Sandberg once said: “We call our little girls bossy. Go to a playground; little girls get called bossy all the time – a word that’s almost never used for boys – and that leads directly to the problems women face in the workforce.”
She is one of the “women with power” who have launched a campaign to ban the word “bossy” from general use. It is always used as negative criticism, and does harm to the way some girls see themselves, she says.
As Beyonce, another celebrity campaign spokesperson, says: “I’m not bossy! I’m the Boss!”
Check out www.banbossy.com to watch inspiring messages for girls
“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”
“Success for me is that if my son chooses to be a stay-at-home parent, he is cheered on for that decision. And if my daughter chooses to work outside the home and is successful, she is cheered on and supported.”
“You know, there has never been a 24-hour period in five years when I have not responded to e-mail at Facebook. I am not saying it’s easy. I work long hours.”
“Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression. Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place.”
“I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own.”