XX in Tech

Sheryl Sandberg Breaks Through Silicon Valley’s Boys Club. Sort of.

sheryl sandberg Sheryl Sandberg Breaks Through Silicon Valleys Boys Club. Sort of.

Ms. Sandberg if ya nasty.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Ken Auletta tackles Silicon Valley’s stubborn gender divide through the prism of one of its most high-profile outliers: Sheryl Sandberg. Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, has been a popular profile subject of late as Facebook braces for its IPO, beefs up its lobbying efforts in Washington, and contemplates venturing into China. Of course, Ms. Sandberg’s stints near the top of Google’s troika and in the Treasury Department also put her at the nexus of the business and politics and the old guard’s battle for relevance against socially-minded upstarts.

Mr. Auletta traces Ms. Sandberg’s ascendance from Larry Summers chief of staff to making Google’s AdWords profitable to making Facebook, which was hemorraging cash when she joined in 2008, profitable. There is some skepticism given as to whether the model for female assertiveness put forth in Ms. Sandberg’s popular TED Talk on the lack of women leaders is replicable. Critics argue that without a powerful sponsor like Mr. Summers willing to go to bat for you or the luxury of childcare when needed, the business world is still not meritocracy where fearlessness is rewarded.

Regardless, the portrait of an exceptional organizer, communicator, and leader emerges. And yet, despite all those shards of glass ceiling at her feet, one role has still eluded Ms. Sandberg.

When I asked Mark Zuckerberg why his five-member board has no women, his voice, which is normally loud, lowered to a whisper: “We have a very small board.” He went on, “I’m going to find people who are helpful, and I don’t particularly care what gender they are or what company they are. I’m not filling the board with check boxes.” (He recently added a sixth member: another man.)

The dissonance between how vital Ms. Sandberg is to the company’s growth—the title of Businessweek‘s profile was “Why Facebook Needs Sheryl Sandberg“—and her absence from its board is something Auletta returns to again and again through some 8,000-odds words. By now Zuck is familiar with the cycle of correcting a misstep after a spate of bad press. Hopefully he’ll do the same thing here.

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