Why Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg must resign

If you’re thinking of investing in Facebook, keep this in mind: Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t trust his COO. And his lack of trust is going to cost you money.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has become one of the clearest and most articulate voices on corporate gender diversity. In a popular TED talk, Why we have too few women leaders, she offers women three steps they should take for career advancement. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, she talks about what corporations must do, too.

The context that she eloquently articulates is the lack of women at the top of organizations. There are more and more at the bottom and more in the middle. But for the last 10 years in the U.S., Sandberg notes, the numbers of women in C-level positions (CEO, etc.) has been stagnant or declining.

Yet her facts, arguments, and eloquence, haven’t reached Sandberg’s closest colleague. It seems that even a woman at the top can’t convince the man she works side-by-side with.

How many women has Mark Zuckerberg put on Facebook’s board?

There are none. This foolhardy approach to building appropriate expertise puts women in the good company of Afro-Americans, Hispanics, and pretty much every conceivable diversity-relevant group: Facebook is run by white men.

This shows both a lack of confidence in Sandberg and an apparent disinterest in the relevant research. As if that weren’t enough, Zuckerberg’s board is arguably sub-optimal for the company.

Catalyst compares Fortune 500 companies having no women on their boards to those having at least three. For Return on Equity, the companies with at least three women on the board outperform those with none by 46%; for Return on Invested Capital, it’s 60%, and for Return on Sales, those companies exceed the others by 84%.

These are hard numbers to ignore. But Sheryl Sandberg’s boss has succeeded in doing so.

This blog is full of arguments for why it’s right to hire women and for why it’s smart, too. Among other gender equality entries, the four Woman matter reports are presented in a recent series. There are many compelling arguments. Have a look, Mark.

Facebook’s social mission, as Bloomberg recently reported, is to “make the world more open and connected” and to “give everyone a voice.”

The board Mark Zuckerberg has assembled makes a farce of this vision.

Sheryl Sandberg now has the opportunity to call him on it.

As Facebook becomes a public company, its responsibilities increase. One of those responsibilities is economic. And we know there’s a relationship between diversity in the leadership of a company and its economic performance.

Another responsibility is social; it’s important to identify women who are both the best person for a job and those who can also be good role models.

Dear Sheryl Sandberg: You have shown remarkable leadership on the issues of gender equality and the importance of gender diversity in corporations. Today you have another opportunity. Tell Mark Zuckerberg to diversify Facebook’s board. Tell him that his choice is simple: Commit to the business-savvy decision of adding women to the board, or lose the business-savvy woman who has made Facebook worth billions.

 

Follow-up posting: Sex, war and boardrooms: Sheryl Sandberg as a modern day Lysistrata

 

Photo: jurvetson

About Curt Rice

My interest in leadership development at universities affects most of what I do, whether it’s working on gender balance issues, developing policies about Open Access, promoting research-based education or just about anything else. I'm a professor at the University of Tromsø, where I've spent the last decade serving first as the head of a Center of Excellence (2002-2008) and then as the Vice President for Research & Development (prorektor for forskning og utvikling) (2009-2013). I'm currently a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study.

Comments

  1. Brave move Curt, and thanks for opening what I hope will be a rich discussion. I’m disagreeing with you on this one. Sandberg has an influential podium from which to speak at Facebook. Resigning over this issue would be cutting off the proverbial nose to spite the face—and the voice for women. She should stay and continue to influence. I trust there will be women on the book the face’s board soon enough.

    • Thanks for your support, Anne. My goal is to start discussion, to “think aloud” with the community of people interested in these issues, and to see if it’s possible to participate in moving our thinking forward. Thanks for your role in facilitating this.
      Regarding the specific issue, I do of course think that Sandberg is hugely influential at Facebook, and has the opportunity to do so much good. And she’s fabulous, so why shouldn’t she? The rest of us should just be working to clear the way for her and let her do her thing.
      However … everything I read gives her tremendous responsibility/credit of rate success of Fb and for the incredible value with which it is now viewed in the stock market. That gives her tremendous power both internally and externally. And she obviously totally believes in the gender diversity cause. So my thought is that Facebook needs Sheryl Sandberg a lot more than Sheryl Sandberg needs Facebook. And if gender diversity (and its good business consequences) are so high on her agenda as I think they are, then I wanted to support her in taking an even stronger stand — admitting all along, of course, that I have no idea what she’s actually tried.
      But there is a problem in the current situation. She’s increased Fb’s value tremendously, she got paid 30mill last year, and still her puppy of a 27 year old boss isn’t listening to her. I think his complete failure to acknowledge her issues — which are about women *at the top* — when he put together a board is in a fact a public humiliation for her, and I don’t think there’s any reason she has to put up with that. I think there’s one line she should use on Mark, and that’s “my way or the highway,” as they say.
      Why should she travel the globe, talking about getting more women at the top, and then have a boss who so flagrantly and publicly undermines her message.
      If she left Facebook *over this issue* it would be huge. It would generate so much attention for the cause of diversity. And she would have a 100mill job tomorrow, or be head of the world bank, or be snapped up as a presidential candidate. There is no limit on what Sheryl Sandberg can do. And if Mark Zuckerman tries to impose one, she should (a) try to change him, and then (b) leave if she can’t. She’s too good for that.
      But I love having this discussion, and I hope others jump in!

      • “puppy”? You think in the context of sexism it is appropriate to discriminate based on age? This is a stupid discussion. Read Cindy Allen’s comment on the Atlantic and for goodness sake, MOVE ON to a more interesting discussion. The hypocrisy here is mind-boggling. Who cares about what % of the top 1% are female? Isn’t it much more relevant what is going on that affects the 90% plus? Not to mention issues related to religion-, race-, name-, age-based discrimination.

        And the point that women made over 50% of college students “decades ago” in the Atlantic article was vague – how many decades? What did they study? Skipping over details is just lazy.

        Sheesh.

        • Actually, the research suggests that the percentage of women at the top is quite important for the development of organizations and for creating better opportunities for women. So, talking about what happens at the top is in fact also a conversation about what affects the 90%.

          You’re right, though, that diversity covers much more than just gender, and those are important issues, too, even if they perhaps aren’t addressed in this particular discussion.

          Regarding the student numbers, there is of course variation from country to country. I touched on this briefly in an earlier posting, which includes sources with more information, cf. “A slow thaw for women” at http://bit.ly/SlowThaw There I note, for example, that by the late 70s, over 60% of university graduates in Sweden were women, while in Spain, only 32% of graduates were women at that time. Many more details are in the references there. I’m not sure when this tip happened in North America, but in many different programs and at several universities, there is discussion about affirmative action for recruiting men to Bachelor-level studies.

          Thanks for your engagement!

          • Good reply, thank you. Definitely % female in college is relatively irrelevant, since you could say also, “why don’t men who study Swahili end up in CEO roles?”

            Obviously WHAT is studied is more relevant than IF. In the States, the top 5 engineering programs (MIT, Stanford, Ill, Mich, etc) are completely dominated by men. Still. Same by in large at KTH in Sweden, where a huge share of business leaders are educated (more there than HHS, the leading business program).

            There are already plenty of small liberal arts programs doing what you say – affirmative action for men. Especially in the northeast.

            If income by the way is the main point, have a look at some of the data for say Asian-Americans or Indian-Americans. That data would suggest culture is more important than most other factors (gender as well) in predicting income. Having a look at religion might suggest you are better off being a Jewish or Hindu woman than a Catholic man, in expectation.

            As someone born on the cusp of Gen Y, and working with loads of super-star women, I have no doubt that the gender gap is declining, and that if you would filter out some of the other key factors (repression of women in certain sub-cultures) to compare apples to apples, the differences would start to look minor.

            Thanks.

  2. We should register our protest of no women on the board by boycotting the use of Facebook on February 14th.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Exciting idea, Carol. How to get the word out?

      • How to spread the word? On Facebook? Twitter, perhaps? Wait…they’re an all-male board too. DOH!

        All our social platforms are completely non-inclusive of women on their boards. And these are where we develop and share our ideas. We are completely shut out.

        Frankly one of my motivations for launching Honestly Now, which is a social Q&A platform, is to wire it around what women need, and not just retrofit men’s visions onto us. The interesting thing I’ve found is, lots of fantastic men really like it too. And we love that. They are totally welcome. We are not about being pink. Just respectful and meaningful.

        As my friend and advocate Rachel Sklar says: We love women. We love men. We just don’t love the ratio.

    • The New York Times reports: “Ms. Sandberg has said that women drive 62 percent of activity on Facebook in terms of status updates, messages and comment. Women also drive 71 percent of daily fan activity. Women have 8 percent more Facebook friends than men, on average, and spend more time on the site.”
      How better to put pressure on Mr. Zuckerman than to have over 50% of his customers register their protest by boycotting his company for a day! I’m all for sending him a Feb. 14 valentine…
      vicki :)

  3. Hi Curt – agree with Anne a brave post. When I saw the news item it struck me that something didn’t jive! My first reaction was disappointment on a number of levels.

    I can’t source the exact figures but did I read that women make up the predominant number of FB users – I think I saw 56 or 58% I can’t be sure. Sheryl Sandberg may or may not choose to stay in a company which would appear not to adhere to the policies she widely promotes and have contributed in no small way to raising her global visibility.

    Can she do more by staying in this particular arena or by using her position as leverage by voting with her feet?

    She is a talented and now wealthy woman and would have no problem being snapped up by any number of organisations. If things are as they seem, to stay with FB, sadly does not reflect well on her.

    I just wonder what the back story is, because I feel there must be one. I just can’t figure out what it might be. We will find out in due course I’m sure.

    • Hi Dorothy — Thanks for the support — and thanks for the nod over at http://3plusinternational.com!

      I’ve seen those numbers, too, in recent days, and what I’m remembering is 58%. It would be a good research project for someone to compare the ways men and women use Facebook. I can’t immediately predict if and what the differences would be, but a company that wants to “connect everyone” should be curious. Maybe I can get them to finance a postdoc and hire someone to do that :)

      The back story … indeed. We need to find a good investigative reporter!

  4. Curt ~ I was so surprised to learn that Facebook, an organization one would expect to be forward thinking, has chosen to emulate the ‘old boys’ club. Wow. It’s a great disappointment to say the least.
    My feeling is, if Sheryl Sandberg believes she has enough leverage within the FB organization to initiate change, I’d like to see her stay and fight it out. From all reports, she has what it takes to make a big difference or at least be the irritant that, in the end, can produce a valuable pearl. However, should she be facing an impenetrable wall, her chances of effecting change will be better, I think, if she works her influence outside the organization. She is a force to be reckoned with. Whatever she chooses, there is bound to be an impact.
    A provocative and thought-inducing post, Curt. Thank you

    • Thanks, Gwyn. I share your views, and it would of course be great to see Sheryl succeed in changing from within. But just imagine the impact if she would leave over this issue. That would be a huge boost to gender diversity work!

  5. I’m back and really enjoying this rich discussion. Thank you Dorothy for suggesting that there may well be a back story here. We have received and read the introduction to a book, and don’t know the full story yet. Let’s wait and see what Ms. Sandberg and FB will be doing in the next chapters before rushing to advise her to leave. As Dorothy further points out, FB users, similar to other social media sites, are predominantly female. Given other savvy moves the company has made, I can’t imagine they are unaware of these demographics. I, for one, am going to give this more time, and also appreciate the movement to ban facebook for a day in protest. Some very smart woman, such as Carol – who comments above – are suggesting a protest by banning FB for a day. Brilliant – the power of our purses. I’d join the protest, except that I’m not a daily, or even a weekly, user.

    • Curt Rice says:

      How ever do you resist, Anne?!

      It would be great to see Sheryl Sandberg succeed from within; I hope she does. But she’s too good to be too patient. If Fb doesn’t see the pictures she’s painting, there are money others who would love to have her onboard.

      And if you’re following this, Sheryl, please jump into the debate. We’d love to know how you see this!

  6. I don’t think Sheryl should resign. We already don’t have enough women in the C-suites to represent us, and she’s one beacon who CAN represent us. However, we should stop complaining about this and start providing solutions. As a woman, entrepreneur, and member of several boards of the present and past–of both for and not for profit businesses, I respectfully submitted my own nomination application to Facebook’s board today in the mail to MZ himself.

    If you want change–ladies in particular in this case–you have to BE the change.

    • Spot on Erin. Vineet Nayar wrote a post in HBR based on advice from his mother. Vineet is an advocate and a voice for the rightful place of women in business. As recall the essence of the quote…if you are given a handicap in a reca…. run faster and harder.
      All the data about lack of women in the C-suite and on boards is real and true, but complaining and whining are not the best strategies for change. How can we support you nomination?

      • Curt Rice says:

        Great stuff in these comments, and it’s a treat to get to think more about this issue. Sheryl Sandberg isn’t going to leave the C-suite. But she might leave Facebook’s. She is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come. And I’m sure she’ll do very well wherever she decides to direct her focus. Try at Facebook, sure, but if there are still no women on the board one year from now, then in my opinion, she’s swallowing a bigger camel than she needs to. Her position is so strong; she can make this change happen — even if it takes a threat to resign!

        • Why are we assuming what discussions have/are/will take place about this issue and whether/how Sheryl Sandberg is addressing this situation.

          Why do we consider ourselves in a position to advise her about what actions she should or should not take? Would we, armed with so little information, advise a male executive in a situation where it appears to us, that what he stands for has been compromised?

          I like Gabriella’s suggestion that we take control of what is rightfully our’s – the decision to invest or not to invest – or something similar such as protesting by not using facebook for a period of time. But we should allow Ms. Sandberg the freedom she has earned to make the best decision possible given her level of influence.

  7. Curt:

    Thank you for writing this article and for speaking out for intelligent women’s voices who are seldom heard from in our culture. The sad reality is most women say they are for gender balance but when it comes down to it, they are afraid to challenge the power structure together and tear it down.

    Does it surprise anyone why women are treated so disrespectfully no matter who they are or what they do if they have a brain and use it? We are 2nd class citizens when compared to men under the U.S. Constitution. It’s been this way since Adam and Eve (if you buy that story). Women have paid the price over and over and over and yet we never say, ENOUGH! Oppression is woven into the fabric of our lives to a point where most women do not even realize what is happening. They spend more time defending why they aren’t a feminist then standing up for themselves and their sisters for fairer treatment.

    Yes, Ladies, we do need an Equal Rights Amendment and no you will not be recognized as an equal until it is finally achieved. Going corporation to corporation isn’t going to cut it. We need a blanket of protection against sex discrimination in the same way that race, religion and national origin are recognized. Nothing less will do. It is the only recourse that counts – no matter where you live – and who you are for as long as you live. It’s practically impossible to undo. Think of her as your super heroine who won’t ever let you down.

    Join United 4 Equality to achieve ERA by 2015.

    • Thank you for your passionate comments. Engagement like yours is what leads to change! One of the things I find interesting about the Zuckerberg/Sandberg dynamic I wrote about is exactly related to your comments here: Sheryl Sandberg made 30 million dollars last year, she’s turned Facebook into a huge money machine, she has to be one of the most powerful women in the world. And still! She goes around, speaking articulately about the importance of gender diversity — admittedly with a greater focus on what individual women can do, and less on structural barriers, which is my main interest — and she’s highly visible. Yet, this rich, powerful, articulate woman’s boss, apparently hasn’t noticed what she’s saying or he doesn’t care or, perhaps more generously, he can’t figure out how to do it. No matter the explanation, it’s a humiliation of Sheryl. And why should she put up with that? She’d have a ton of high powered job offers tomorrow, if she wants them. So, I’m a little surprised by the “stay and change it from within” responses I’m getting, and I wonder if there’s a gender dynamic in that. Thoughts?

  8. Over at http://erinalbert.com, I read this, which I have two comments on below:

    Last but not least, there’s been quite a brewhaha about Facebook having an all-male board with their IPO just out. But one of my friends made a good point: he said, “Hey – why don’t you get on their board and change it?” I thought that was an excellent piece of advice, so I sent Mr. Zuckerberg a letter expressing my concern over his lack of equality on his board, along with a copy of my board bio and my CV for his consideration this morning. Why not be the change? I’m ALWAYS giving this advice, but it was great to see it reflected back to me!

    1] It’s great to see anyone (actually man or woman, but for boards, the shortage is obviously on one side) alert others of their qualifications and interests. Go for it, Erin!

    2] Delighted to contribute to a brewhaha!

  9. Very interesting. I had no idea Facebook was so white and mail. I have to agree with some of the ladies on here like Ann and Dorothy. She (Sheryl Sandberg) shouldn’t resign – at the least keep a foot in the door. I’m not sure how much hiring power she has, but at the very least she could recommend women in key positions. Good thing I read this; I was getting excited about buying stocks, but this gives me reason to pause.

    • Curt Rice says:

      I think Sheryl Sandberg has the power to do whatever she wants at Facebook. But since they don’t have a board that reflects what I think are her values, I’m concerned that she’s being stopped. Only one person can do that, namely Mark Zuckerberg. So I wrote this to encourage her to be even more clear with him. Let’s see what happens!

  10. Curt –
    I love that a man took on this topic! I spent many years in corporate America and the past 11 as an entrepreneur, most recently starting a company to change the way the world works using neuroscience to address gender dynamics in business.

    I have been following Sheryl for quite some time and she keeps sharing the same points from the now 2 year old TED talk, but she fails to address the major issue which is how men perceive women thru the filter of the man brain. Men want women to succeed and men like having women in the business world. But men don’t understand how women think or what drives their actions and words – and therefore, they get misunderstood and miscommunication, conflict and/or drama ensues. Women are in the same boat – they don’t understand how men think or what drives their actions either.

    Once we bridge this gap, communication becomes effective, relationships become productive, teams actually collaborate and work becomes fun again. I love watching faces light up when I share the data – the secret to understanding the opposite sex in business.

    I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this topic with you at more depth. I am passionate about getting more women in positions of influence and in changing how the world works.

    Thanks again for your support of women!
    Laura

  11. Great points, but resign? Isn’t it easier to fix the system from the inside than the outside? Should powerful women everywhere resign in protest? Do you think the more prejudiced among them would cry over this? I say stay, become so invaluable that the boards starts to wonder why they keep Zuck around when they have Sheryl.

    • Well, I wasn’t actually advocating that she resign, but rather that she threaten to resign. Sheryl Sandberg is an incredibly powerful woman and I think the Zuckster humiliates her with his complete indifference to her work on gender balance. If nothing has changed a year from now, I think should she try to change from within — but within somewhere else, not Facebook. Because at that point, it seems like it’ll be clear that she’s not going to succeed at changing Fb.
      Organization is essential to success here. The prejudiced would cry if consumers show sensitivity to these issues, or if the profitability claims, e.g. in the McKinsey reports, apply.

  12. Wow! Powerful provocation Curt. In reality, I feel Sheryl can achieve more from within the organisation despite the issues you recognise. The role gives her a platform to raise female leadership challenges and I think that is incredibly valuable.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Thanks for the good feedback, Helen. I certainly agree that Sheryl has a terrific platform in her current position. At the same time, I wonder how hard she should have to work on this, how long she should have to wait. What if 1 year from now, there are still no women on Facebook’s board? 2 years? 5 years? In other words, at what point does one acknowledge that an attempt to change from within isn’t worth waiting around for?

      I followed up on this a bit in “Sex, war and boardrooms: Sheryl Sandberg as a modern day Lysistrata.”
      http://curt-rice.com/2012/03/22/sex-war-and-boardrooms-sheryl-sandberg-as-a-modern-day-lysistrata/

  13. Anonymous says:

    Huh? What discussion? It’s politics, it means one is with you or one is against you. Penn & Teller produced a nice satire of ‘diversity’ advocacy.

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