By Alissa Pinck
Speaking recently at a TED conference as part of a talk on why we have too few women leaders in the world, Sheryl Sandberg concluded by saying: “I want my daughter to have the chance not to just succeed but to be liked for her accomplishments as well.”
Sheryl was referring to studies that show success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Although as COO of Facebook, she is arguably one of the most powerful women in business today, Sheryl is acutely aware that women are still struggling to make it to the top of their professions, be it in business, government or the non-profit sector.
One challenge Sheryl understands all too well is the choice between professional success and personal fulfillment. With two young children, Sheryl says her greatest achievement is simply “getting through the day.” It helps that she and her husband coordinate to ensure that one of them, or hopefully both, is home for dinner as much as possible and that their children are driven to school each morning by one of their parents. “We do lots and lots of planning. Our best tool is our Google family calendar,” she admits.
For Sheryl, it also helps that she “works on things I really believe in with people I really believe in.” In fact, Sheryl has allowed that sentiment to guide her career choices, most notably when she made the decision in 2001 to leave a career in government as Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton for one in business. Recognizing that technology was transforming how we live our lives, Sheryl quit her job and headed west, landing at Google several months later.
Sheryl also tries to plan what she is going to accomplish for the next year or two and advises people who ask for career advice to similarly plan out that far ahead. But she cautions that too much planning can limit one’s options. Her other pieces of career advice: 1) sit at the table, 2) make your partner a real partner, and 3) don’t leave before you leave. Explained in more depth, Sheryl emphasizes that women need to believe in their abilities and demand a place at the boardroom table; make equal progress in the workforce as they do at home by relying on their partners for housework and childcare; and keep their feet on the gas pedal until the very day they must leave to have a child. Sheryl admits that while she has followed some of her own advice, she has also made some mistakes: “Certainly at times I have not raised my hand or felt confident.”
Asked about mentors, she pays tribute to a handful of people who have influenced her professionally or personally. “Early in my career, Larry Summers, who was my thesis advisor, then boss and mentor all the way through. Also Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerberg, Arianna Huffington and Pat Mitchell deserve a mention.” A true advocate for women in communications, she accepts her Matrix Award in the spirit of all those that came before and will come after her. “It’s not only about winning an award,” she says. “It’s about the things we can all do to highlight the role women play in our industry.”
This technology leader also manages to find time to devote to important causes outside the industry. She is passionate about women and poverty in the developing world, serving on the boards of organizations such as Women for Women International, V-Day and the Center for Global Development. With a role model and mom like Sheryl, there’s little doubt her daughter will not only succeed but be liked as well.