After the Facebook IPO, Sheryl Sandberg will become number two on the list of richest self-made women. She is the COO of Facebook. For those of you not familiar with her career, there's a nice summary in the New York Times. But the bottom line is that she is really smart (Harvard), a really hard worker (startups, Google, Facebook), a great speaker (here's a commencement speech) ,and she's married to a guy who is also making tons of money in startups.
There is nothing, really, that is bad to say about Sandberg. And she works very hard to encourage other women to go as far as she has gone.
The problem is, very few women want to be Sandberg, but there is very little discussion of this.
Sandberg has two young kids. She runs a company that is very public about having “lock-ins” to move fast enough to compete with Google, and they have open hours for kids to come to Facebook offices to say goodnight to their parents, who are working very long hours.
She encourages women to have ambition and “never take their foot off the gas pedal,” but very, very few women would choose to do this after they have kids. Pew Research shows that the majority of women would like to work part-time after they have kids. So it's hard to tell that demographic that they should work 100-hour weeks at startups instead.
It's revealing that the New York Times profile of Sandberg shows her surrounded by men who are only marginally involved in raising their kids.
Obama, for instance, is shown kissing her on the cheek. At that moment, presumably, Michelle Obama was with his kids. Because Michelle has been very clear that he is almost never with their kids, and she's pissed, and she has confessed to screaming at him that she didn't sign up to be a single mother. In fact, she quit her job so she could manage the family while her husband's career took off.
Sandberg is also pictured with Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE. I was so struck by his lack of involvement with his kids that I wrote a whole post about it, here. He has a wife at home taking care of his kids.
Sandberg is pictured with Mayor Bloomberg, who is divorced and single, and left raising his daughters largely to his ex-wife.
Sandberg's husband is not a stay-at-home husband. He has a big career of his own. Meg Whitman also had a husband with a big career, but when she became the very high-profile CEO of eBay, he stepped down to take care of their sons. Sandberg's husband doesn't appear to be doing that.
I have a friend who was a direct report to Sandberg. He had nothing but good things to say about her, but when I pressed for how she could possibly be getting this done with young kids, he said there are multiple nannies.
This makes sense. When I had a big job—nothing compared to Sandberg's—I had two nannies. Because if you travel you have to have around-the-clock coverage.
Sandberg wants to be a role model for women who want big, exciting careers. But here's the problem: women don’t want to be Sandberg. It's no coincidence that the number-one woman on the list of self-made millionaires is Oprah. She has no kids and no husband. She's fascinating, nice, and smart. But few of us would really enjoy her life.
Sandberg and Oprah represent extreme choices in life. The things they give up are not things that most women would want to give up in exchange for the wild career success they could have.
Sandberg's right when she says that the thing holding women back is women's ambition. But I don't see that changing any time soon. Even after the Facebook IPO. I'm afraid that what the Facebook IPO means for women is nothing. Sandberg is not a role model. She's an aberration.
But this week Jeff Atwood wrote in Tech Crunch that he's leaving his startup because it's impossible to see his kids if he stays. And I don't see anyone complaining about his declaration.
So probably Sheryl Sandberg is not doing much for women, but I’m pretty sure Jeff Atwood is, because it's not as hard to say “The startup is too hard on my kids” when men are saying it, too.