Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Makes Waves as Billionaire Businesswoman - The Jewish Voice
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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Makes Waves as Billionaire Businesswoman

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The world of business has been paying a lot of attention lately to Sheryl Sandberg, and it’s not too hard to figure out why. As the chief operating officer of Facebook, she stands, alongside CEO Mark Zuckerberg, at the helm of a social media juggernaut that – with 845 million active users worldwide – is expected to be worth $100 billion dollars when its pending initial public offering takes effect. According to an analysis by Forbes magazine, the IPO will net Sandberg $1.6 billion, and it will place her among the elite 1.6 percent of the world’s billionaires who are women who created their own fortunes.

In its latest update on the IPO, Facebook elaborated that its two top executives are slated to receive annual target bonuses of 45% of their salary, as well as other base wages. Sandberg may be eligible for a bonus of $135,000 based on her annual base salary of $300,000.

While the 42-year-old Sandberg has only been with Facebook since 2008, she is generally regarded as the person responsible for transforming it from a rising Internet venture into a stable profit-making enterprise. A top student in her public-sector economics class at Harvard University, Sandberg so impressed her tutor Larry Summers that he wound up hiring her as his assistant when he was appointed chief economist at the World Bank. When he was chosen as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury by President Clinton in 1995, Summers hired Sandberg – at age 26 – to be his chief of staff.
Before Zuckerberg brought her into Facebook, Sandberg made her mark at another young web phenomenon, Google, where she served as Vice President of Global Online Sales & Operations. In her position there, she was responsible for online sales of Google’s advertising and publishing products, as well as for sales operations of Google’s consumer products and Google Book Search.  Sandberg was also involved in launching Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org. Given all of her professional accomplishments, it should not be surprising that Sandberg has been ranked one of the 50 “Most Powerful Women in Business” by Fortune Magazine every year since at least 2008, as well as one of the “25 Most Influential People on the Web” by Business Week.

Sandberg’s employment agreement with Facebook includes terms that indicate the increasingly public role she has been taking. Facebook has agreed that its COO can continue to take on speaking engagements and lectures, with the stipulation that those activities don’t interfere with her responsibilities at Facebook. Sandberg’s public persona has become significantly intertwined with her avowed mission, which is to generate an increase in the number of women attaining top positions in the corporate and public sectors. In repeated public appearances, Sandberg hammers home the following key points: out of 190 heads of state, only nine are women, while females comprise only 13 per cent of members of parliament worldwide; in American corporations, women make up just 15 to 16 per cent of top-level jobs.

The billionaire businesswoman’s solution to this issue places the onus of responsibility squarely on women themselves, namely that they must pro-actively ask for a “seat at the table” by demanding pay raises and promotions in the same manner that men do. She further insists that women should not mentally diminish their careers as soon as they begin contemplating the prospect of having children. And she declares that a woman’s relationship partner should be made to equally share household chores and childcare. Sandberg clearly practices what she preaches – her arrangement with her husband David Goldberg, who is CEO of SurveyMonkey, ensures that one of the two will always be at home for dinner and bedtime with their young son and daughter. Finally, Sandberg argues that women must fight the tendency in academic studies to – as she claims – positively correlate success and likeability for men and negatively correlate those traits for women.

While Sandberg has not been able to crack the board of Facebook – it is composed of seven men – her achievements are nevertheless quite impressive. And given both her high public profile and her likeability among her professional peers, she may yet bring about a change in Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture. Viewing herself as a role model for women in business and technology, Sandberg urges women in her speeches to “keep your foot on the gas pedal,” and to aim high.

Sandberg’s presentations have become wildly popular – videos of her speeches on YouTube have been viewed over 200,000 times, while transcripts of some speeches have been incorporated into syllabuses at the Stanford and Harvard business schools. The Facebook COO apparently has a charisma about her that utterly charms many people, especially young women. “There have been a handful of women that could have been the ‘Justin Bieber of tech,’ but Sheryl is the real deal,” says Ann Miura-Ko, a lecturer at the School of Engineering at Stanford and an investment partner at Floodgate, a venture capital firm in Palo Alto, Calif. “Young women really want to be her and learn from her.”

Some critics feel that Sandberg is essentially asking women to just work harder, while neglecting to acknowledge that most of them have not had the many advantages she has had. “I think she’s had a golden path herself, and perhaps does not more readily understand that the real struggles are not having children or ambition,” opines Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a research organization on work-life policy, and director of the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University. “Women are, in fact, fierce in their ambition, but they find that they’re actually derailed by other things, like they don’t have a sponsor in their life that helps them go for it.”

Yet Sandberg has many supporters, such as Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, a co-worker at Google, who believes Sandberg’s high profile enabled Facebook to gain the upper hand in recruiting and retaining talent. “When you have women who say, ‘Can I stay in? Can I have children and make it still work?’ the existence of role models like Sheryl is very impactful,” says Cassidy.

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