Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s departure marks the end of an era for women in technology

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For years, Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women to climb the corporate ladder by promoting themselves in the workplace and asking for more help from their spouses at home.

Now, her departure from Facebook as one of the highest-ranking female leaders in corporate America marks the end of an era in the brand of self-empowering feminism she advocated as a critical tool in combating sexism in the workplace.

Sandberg, 52, announced on Wednesday that she quit as COO after a 14-year period in a company she helped transform from a social media site for students to a giant digital advertising business. Sandberg, who has positioned herself as a champion for women in the workplace, said she would leave Facebook to spend more time with her family and on her philanthropic work.

“I want to believe that the careers I have had and the careers of other female leaders inspire women to know that they can lead,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If you grew up 100 years ago, you would not have known a single woman in business. If you grow up today, you know someone. I hope my daughters will grow up in a world where there are many more. “

Top manager Sheryl Sandberg leaves Facebook

As one of the richest self-made female billionaires in the world, Sandberg was a symbol that women could reach the top of a male-dominated industry as technology companies in the Sillcon Valley. Her advice to women who wanted to rise higher in their careers was simply to “lean in”, or be more confident in their jobs, which became a cultural phenomenon. Her 2010 TED Talk, a best-selling book, and the nonprofit organization Lean In drove her into a kind of corporate star status that few chief executives enjoy while being deputy commander of their companies.

Sandberg was among Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s most trusted deputy for years, and people talked about the two informally as “co-CEOs” – making her one of the few tall women at the helm of a technology giant.

“This is a huge loss when it comes to just having women represented in Silicon Valley in a meaningful way,” said Crystal Patterson, a former senior manager at Facebook and current CEO of the lobbying firm Washington Media Group. “It’s not another Sheryl.”

Over the years, Sandberg has struggled to keep her voice as a feminist, as Facebook, which changed its name to Meta last year, continued to be overflowing with political controversy during her tenure. Sandberg has faced criticism for, among other things, viral covid misinformation and the role the company played in spreading former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the presidential election in 2020 was rigged.

“Her value as a messenger has definitely changed over time with the company’s fortunes,” Patterson added.

While women have made small gains in getting to the highest levels of power in companies, the C-suite is still dominated by men. In 2021, 26 percent of all CEOs and CEOs were women, up from 15 percent in 2019, according to a report from the women’s organization Catalyst.

The movement to get more women into better roles in corporate America has stopped in recent years. Faced with tough choices about how to balance career ambitions with the demands of caring for their loved ones during pandemic-induced closures, many women leaned forward. A 2021 report conducted by McKinsey in collaboration with LeanIn.Org found that 1 in 3 women had considered leaving the workforce or quitting their careers, which represented an increase from the proportion of women who said the same during the first months of the pandemic.

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And female workers, especially in racial minorities, were often overrepresented in careers that were hit hard by the pandemic. A recent report from the National Women’s Law Center found that there were still 1 million fewer women in the labor force in January 2022 than there were in February 2020, while men largely made up for job losses during that time frame.

Sandberg said in the interview with The Post that she believes the Lean In campaign can and will survive her departure from Facebook.

There are some other high-profile women in tech who could continue where Sandberg left off. Last year, Fiji Simo left his role as head of the Facebook app to become CEO of Instacart. Deborah Liu, also a former Facebook boss, became the CEO of Susan Wojcicki is the CEO of YouTube, and Safra Catz holds that title in the software company Oracle.

Facebook’s legal manager, Jennifer Newstead, and business manager, Marne Levine, have recently taken on larger roles with the social media giant.

“There are still a lot of problems for women in technology, but Sheryl leaves a long line of female leaders who can take up this cloak,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook employee and CEO of consulting firm Anchor Change.

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Sandberg’s image as a corporate feminist was first polished after TED Talk in 2010, where she described what she saw as the reasons why women still struggled to compete with men when they moved up in the company’s latter. She argued, among other things, that women often held back by not taking credit for their own gains or by not seeking more ambitious opportunities for fear that they would not be able to cope with the demands of home life.

“No one comes to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table,” she said. “And no one gets promoted if they do not think they deserve the success.”

Sandberg followed up the lecture with a book from 2013, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, which helped put her in the spotlight. She later started the Lean In Foundation, which helps organize networking groups for women to support each other in their careers.

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But Sandberg’s ideas were quickly criticized for not taking into account the additional barriers faced by women of color and those who do not work in corporate environments. Others claimed that she downplayed the systematic barriers that keep women out of the boardrooms and overplay their level of personal freedom of action in the case.

Amy Nelson, founder and co-CEO of a collaborative startup for women called Riveter, said she hopes Sandberg will focus on bringing greater justice to the conversation Lean In began.

“She talked about something before many people when it comes to the need for professional women to have a community and advocate for each other, and I think Lean In played a crucial role in changing that,” Nelson said. “But I also think it’s very clear that the ability to lean in is a privilege that is largely held by white women, and the discussion leaves women without money or connections or support.”

“I think we need to have that conversation,” Nelson continued. “Wouldn’t it be nice if Sheryl led that discussion?”

The Lean In strategy also faced philosophical challenges from the #MeToo movement, which highlighted the pervasive culture of sexual harassment and sexism that persists for even very successful women in their careers.

Still, on Wednesday, women inside and outside Facebook congratulated her on taking the plunge.

“I think she started that movement,” said Debbie Frost, a former Facebook boss and current advisor to Lean In. ‘I do not think it works when she leaves. In fact, I think the impact she can have on more companies and more organizations now will be what will be the most profound and exciting. “

As for Sandberg’s future, she said it has not yet been fully mapped. She will soon remarry and continue to raise her children, she said in a Facebook post announcing that she would leave.

“I’m not quite sure what the future will bring – I’ve learned that no one is,” she said in the post. “I know it will include focusing more on my basic and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.”

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