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Who is Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's Departing COO?

By Anna Bradley-Smith

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

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Learn more about executive, billionaire and philanthropist Sheryl Sandberg and what her impact at Facebook was.

Matt Winkelmeyer for Getty Images
Matt Winkelmeyer for Getty Images

Who is Sheryl Sandberg?

Executive, billionaire and philanthropist Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most prominent business women in the world.

She began making international headlines when she was named the Chief Operating Officer of social media goliath Facebook, now Meta, in 2008 and continued to do so by dramatically increasing the company’s revenue. Sandberg became seen as an almost equal to founder Mark Zuckerberg, and was named as the company’s first female board member.

But last Wednesday, Sandberg's 14-year tenue at the social media conglomerate came to an end when she made the shock announcement that she would be stepping down from her role.

She will stay with Meta until fall of 2022, guiding Zuckerberg and offloading her direct reports to incoming COO Javier Olivan, the current Chief Growth Officer. She will then transition to a board member role for the metaverse company.

Since making a name for herself at Meta, Sandberg has become a vocal advocate for women in the workplace and started the successful nonprofit advocacy LeanIn.Org. The nonprofit grew out of her The New York Times bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which elaborated on a 2010 Ted Talk titled, “Why we have too few women leaders.”

According to Forbes, Sandberg has a net worth of $1.7 billion, largely due to her stock holdings in Meta accounting, which give her around a 0.5% stake in the company.

What is Sheryl Sandberg’s background?

Sandberg graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics in 1991 and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1995. During those years, she worked for her mentor Larry Summers while he was chief economist at the World Bank.

In the following years, she worked for McKinsey & Company and served as Larry Summers’ chief of staff while he was deputy Treasury secretary and Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, before starting at Google in 2001.

Sandberg worked at Google for seven years, finishing her time at the company as vice president of global sales and online operations before joining Meta in 2008.

Sandberg quickly made a name for herself at the company by finding ways to dramatically increase Facebook’s earnings, making it profitable by 2010. According to Meta, Sandberg oversees the company’s sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communication, and she has seen it grow to the point of having now acquired more than 90 other companies.

However, despite climbing to the highest ranks within the company, Sandberg’s journey hasn’t been all smooth sailing. She was largely the face of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, with the *Wall Street Journal* reporting that Zuckerberg personally blamed her for the outcome of the scandal, and has also come under attack for Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

In more recent years, Sandberg hasn’t had such a public-facing role with the company, with many questioning if she has fallen out of favor with the CEO. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has increased his public facing role with Meta, including by appearing in front of the U.S. Congress.

Instead, Sandberg has become more synonymous with women’s advocacy work, all while sitting on the boards of Meta, The Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development, and V-Day. She previously sat on the boards of Starbucks, SurveyMonkey, Brookings Institution and Ad Council.

Leaning In to advocacy

Sandberg has always said she wanted to do mission-based work, saying both Google and Facebook’s missions were what attracted her to working at the companies. But, she said more recently, advocating for women in leadership feels “like something I was meant to do, supposed to do, have an opportunity to do, maybe have a responsibility to do.”

At the time, she said she had spent most of her career never acknowledging that she was a woman, and had now realized that “fitting in is not helping us.”

“Women have held 14 percent of the top jobs in this country for ten years. No progress. We need a new and much more honest and open dialogue on gender.”

That dialogue came in the form of her New York Times bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, published in 2013. The book, which elaborated on a famous 2010 Ted Talk, used personal anecdotes to talk about the lack of women in leadership, the barriers they face and ways to achieve equality.

A key argument made is that women need to ‘lean in’ to leadership roles in order to create more opportunities for other women, and she said, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”

However, not everyone bought into Sandberg’s vision in Lean In, with critics saying as a wealthy, white woman with a supportive partner and family she did not represent many women in the workforce who did not have the means or opportunities afforded to her.

For her part, Sandberg acknowledged this criticism, especially after the tragic death of her husband in 2015.

Option B and nonprofit work

Around the same time as her book was published, Sandberg founded the Lean In Foundation and nonprofit organization, Lean In Org, as a global community dedicated to helping foster leadership, advancement, and inclusion for women in the workplace.

The nonprofit supports Lean In Circles for women to support and mentor their peers, undertakes advocacy and policy work and holds bias training and programs for all ages and sexes.

After the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, Sandberg renamed her Lean In Foundation the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation. The foundation serves as an umbrella for Lean In Org and a new organization around her second book, Option B. Option B, released in 2017 and co written with Wharton School of professor Adam Grant, explores and discusses grief and resilience in everyday life, following her own personal experience dealing with.

The nonprofit formed around the book, OptionB.Org, is dedicated to helping people build resilience in the face of adversity, and giving the tools to help build community resilience, too. At the website, users can read and share personal stories, join groups for solidarity and support, and find information from experts.

Sandberg has transferred more than $100,000,000 in Meta stock to fund the foundation and her other charitable endeavors.

Through both her nonprofit work and the work she’s done — and continues to do — at some of the world’s most valuable and powerful companies, Sandberg has had a large impact of changing the discourse around workplace cultures.

She was responsible for companies such as Bank of America, AirBnB and Mastercard improving bereavement leave policies; has encouraged men to take paid parental leave; and changed — and amplified — conversations around women entering leadership roles.

Whispers of politics

There were mumblings of Sandberg entering politics around the time of the 2016 election, with many expecting her to join Hillary Clinton’s cabinet. Sandberg was one of the few tech leaders at the time to take a stance in the election, backing the Clinton campaign.

However, since then the rumors have died — but Sandberg has continued to stay politically engaged. During Trump’s presidency, she spoke out against his immigration and abortion policies, and, after he reinstated a law banning federally funded groups from discussing abortion, she sent a $1 million donation to Planned Parenthood.

More recently, when Kamala Harris was picked as then-Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, Sandberg said: “This is a huge moment for Black women and girls all over the world — and for all of us.

“For the first time, we’ll see a Black woman on the ticket for the highest office in the land. In a world where there are still far too few Black women leaders in our companies and government, that really matters — because you can’t be what you can’t see.”

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