Sheryl Sandberg is on her way to becoming America’s next self-made woman billionaire. There really aren’t that many–China has most of them. But Sandberg, who in her brief time at FB has increased “the friendship” from 70 million to 700 million, and turned a questionable profitability into a billion dollar one, is on a streak.
I first met Sheryl when I was running The Women’s Media Center…she came to our fledgling non-profit, originating in donated space in the Empire State Building, to give one of our first talks about women and the media. She was then a force at Google, when it was the darling of internet start-ups–and her talk was mesmerizing. Diminutive and direct, she was accompanied by a diamond-like resume: World Bank, Treasury. Newest of New Media. Two of our founders, Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, subsequently spoke at Google U. in Palo Alto, interviewed by Eric Schmidt and attended by a packed house of women and men. Sheryl learned a lot from Gloria and Jane, and the ensuing friendships have been beneficial to all. I like her a lot.
I’ve just finished reading Ken Auletta’s profile of Sheryl in The New Yorker. Several friends are quoted–Gloria, Marie Wilson, Pat Mitchell. It’s a very positive “portrait,” as some have called it. Few can quibble with her accomplishments–but controversy has arisen over her advice to women to, as some interpret it, stop whining and “lean into it.” That often what holds women back–is women themselves.
I would be among the first to say that, truly, we need to step up to the plate, swinging with all our might, more often. But it deserves mentioning that Sheryl Sandberg was excellently mentored by Larry Summers, a powerful man who kept giving her jobs—-and spectacular references. She fits into the category of Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice–and Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow–all of whom learned their trade at the side of influential mentors–in the case of Clinton and Bigelow, their husbands. This takes nothing from their success–if they didn’t have the “right stuff,” we wouldn’t know their names today.
So, in addition to “leaning in,” women need to “latch on” to someone who can vouch for them. Sadly, most women still don’t have the option of the outstretched hand of the powerful.