Sheryl Sandberg and Women in High Ranking Positions

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Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is the strong, confident, COO of Facebook today because, she says, she owes this high ranking position to her late husband David Goldberg. He believed that women should speak up, and have everything they need to rise to the position they were meant to hold. Goldberg died May 1, leaving his legacy in the belief he had in his wife. Goldberg was a known male feminist, and it made Sandberg great, because of it. As far as history is concerned, he was the first major chief executive to make sure his wife became as successful as he was.

Goldberg pushed Sandberg to negotiate her compensation plan when she started out as Facebook’s first woman, COO. Sandberg has held a few positions of high power. In 2008, she left her job at Google, where she built and then managed their online operations and sales program. She was offered the position as the Chief Organizing Officer of Facebook.  Now, she manages business development, sales, human resources, marketing, communications and public policy. Before working at Google, Sandberg has been an economist for the World Bank, as well as, the Chief of Staff at the US Treasury Department.

It was Sandberg’s husband who encouraged her to forget about the glass ceiling. Even when the two became parents, they worked things out so that no one was ever put in a position to choose between career and family. When Sandberg got pregnant, Goldberg pushed her to ask for special parking spaces be marked for pregnant women, closer to the building.

Goldberg became CEO of SurveyMonkey and was able to move the company to Palo Alto so he would no longer have to commute to Los Angeles. The couple was able to maintain their high ranking positions and be home to have dinner with their children before returning to work.

In public, the couple did not discuss the other’s career. In private, they discussed ideas together. They counseled each other in the ways they each conducted business. All the while, Goldberg was encouraging Sandberg to be a solid female COO, and her role was empowering other women to also ignore the glass ceiling.

Sandberg spoke out more concerning the advancement of women. Goldberg advised men in the office he ran, concerning family and partnership issues. There are 16 members of the management team at SurveyMonkey, and six of them are women, this is the only company in Silicon Valley with this kind of ratio, in a company worth more than $1 billion. Goldberg noticeably put actions to his words. He did not just encourage his wife toward higher management, he put women in higher management.

Sandberg wrote a New York Times, bestseller, Lean In, after giving a TED talk on women and leadership. Her talk received three million views, which gave her the initiative to write the book. The book created a movement that launched over 12,000 “Lean in Circles,” which are support groups for working women. These “Lean in Circles” are in 50 different countries.

When Sandberg was working on the college version of her book, she asked Mellody Hobson to write a chapter about women of color. Goldberg gave her advice after reading her draft. He made a joke about her chapter being too long, but he enjoyed reading her work.

Now, Sandberg, herself, is starting a new chapter in her life. She is now a single mother, and COO of Facebook. Even though her partner has sadly passed on, the lessons that he has taught her in life are still strong within her belief system. There is no doubt that she has the acquired skills to advocate for herself to be able to balance career and motherhood. It is possible this could even become another bestselling book for Sandberg, and enable her to empower a new sector of women, single mothers can have high ranking positions too. There are very few women in high ranking positions and even less single mothers in those positions.

By Jeanette Smith


San Jose Mercury News

Financial Review

TED Blog


Photos courtesy of
Thomas Hawk – Creativecommons Flickr License
United Nations/John Gillespie – Creativecommons Flickr License