What Facebook’s IPO means for women

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.

You can’t have small kids and a startup if you want to see your kids. I wrote about this on TechCrunch and I got skewered for being bad for women and being a downer in general.

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.

138 replies
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  1. emily
    emily says:

    Did you read that profile of her in the NYer about how she didn’t fight for a board seat at Facebook? And what about that woman who just resigned from the company that created a loophole so that they didn’t have to fund planned parenthood? Do women still have to choose between sucking it up for personal gain or disappearing all together? It’s infuriating!

  2. Heroine Worshiper
    Heroine Worshiper says:

    “Self-made” is definitely a relative term with executives. Zuck is definitely self made, but did Sandberg gamble her grad school loans on a personal software project outside of her degree & not affiliated with any famous professor? She was a government employee.

  3. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    It’s all about priorities. It is your goal to be a master of the universe or live a more balanced life? I am a mother of two young girls, and the Co-founder of a startup, and it’s hard as hell. Happily I had a great role model in my father who bucked the trend of being a work-all-hours Wall Street guy, and instead made it a priority to be home every night for dinner to discuss the days events, review homework and tuck us into bed. It once told me that it probably cost him in terms of deals that could have been done and money made, but at some point you have to choose what you want. Take the same tack with my family, working odd hours to ensure that I get to enjoy motherhood, while growing our business. I may never be a Sheryl Sandberg, but happy to be a successful me.

  4. Laura
    Laura says:

    Your best posts always sting a bit from the whip of honesty. You are right on point here. Thank you for cutting through the fairy tale being sold to young women.

  5. Sara Sutton Fell
    Sara Sutton Fell says:

    There are many shades of grey on this topic, while I give kudos to Sheryl Sandberg for following her chosen path to kick butt and get to the peak of the mountain, it would be ridiculous to think that there aren’t a slew of cons to all of the pros. That's the way life works. As an entrepreneur and a mother of two young children myself, I have made some very specific choices so that I can both work hard and be very present for my children – . because that's what I feel is truly important for me and my family. I could care less about being at the top of the peak like Cheryl when the con is having to give up being highly involved in my kids' lives. For me, they're not a project to manage and delegate, they are the love of my lives (and my husband, of course!), and so it's worth every moment – €“ for me and my family. My professional choices may evolve, and I feel thankful that I have those choices to make.

    It's also worth stating that this is my second startup, with the first being an around-the-clock internet startup (which was successfully sold to a public company). I know what that was like, and I know that there is NO way I could've done it this time around with young children. So I created a new path, and one that works for me, my company, and my team — that doesn't involve burning the midnight oil (good article on this on Inc.com – http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/the-case-against-burning-the-midnight-oil-and-for-flexible-hours.html). Professional success can be achieved in different ways, and for me, that's been a profound lesson.

  6. Silvie
    Silvie says:

    I think that this article is missing a very important fact about work-life balance. It is almost impossible to fully commit to work and parenthood in a culture that is so highly competitive. In this culture working long hours is considered normal,at times even desirable. A 40-hour work week is supposed to be the norm. But the reality is that if you want to make it, you’ll be working way more hours. You’ll be expected to work more hours.If we lived in a culture that adheres to a 40-hour work week, we would have more time for our children, family, and friends. I don’t think that the world would stop spinning if we worked 40 hours a week. But the competitive nature of this culture creates restlessness and stress that makes people work harder than they should. And then their work-life balance goes out of the window.

  7. LH
    LH says:

    Although I still see that women are going to have to be the driving force for change. Since most men aren’t going to sign up voluntarily for the double duty women now have between work and family. Most men have it pretty good, and most women wish they had a wife too!

    So probably Sheryl Sandberg is not doing much for women, but I'd have to say that 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.


  8. Anna
    Anna says:

    We need to get past a major catch-22 in promoting good role models for women of all types (parents, stay at home parents, single, career with families, no career/no family, etc.).

    Unless we stop being defensive about the need for certain types of parenting, certain types of workweeks, certain types of relationships, and unsure about our respective roles, we’ll always be justifying our choices, rather than being strong, independent identities for young women. Taking a mentoring role is helpful and proactive–the dialogue knocked confidence into me and forced me to encourage ownership of choices made.

  9. Marti
    Marti says:

    Thank you for this analysis. You articulated my same thoughts when I read the NYT article. Although I am an entrepreneur and a divorced mother of three (with a Harvard MBA),it does not do women a service to tell them they can have it all, when it is clear you have had the financial means to outsource all aspects of child-rearing and household management. Women on the way up the ladder do not have these resources, and therefore need a really supportive spouse or a lot of family resources – two also very rare commodities. Far better that we find ways to enable parents to make serious work commitments within the very real constraints that come with parenting.

  10. Ron
    Ron says:

    Shifting gears from male and female outliers, as a college prof, I can’t help but note how, on average, my female students seem to have a lot more ambition than my male ones.

  11. Sarah Griffith
    Sarah Griffith says:

    I know there will be haters, but I really appreciated this post. I think women need to choose what’s right for their life, not what other people say she “should” be doing. As long as you are making the choices that fit your life and provide for the needs of your children, you are doing the right thing.

  12. Anita Junttila
    Anita Junttila says:

    Penlelope, you are right about ‘what women want’ and they don’t want to spent 90 hours a week at work away from their children/husband.families . . . but I see the grey area around me every day. I have a good friend who is starting a business because she wants to get out of nursing. So, now she’s working 90 hours a week so she doesn’t have to. She has three kids, a husband and an ill father she also has to take care of. Another friend sold her business so she could be home all day. It’s been just over a month and she’s getting bored. Me? My oldest is 20, living at home, my youngest is 6. I wonder if I will ever be able to do something other than take care of a child/family. In good days I’m happy to be able to pick my son up from school and be able to consider home schooling (I would be the dilettante home school mom) But, Penelope, the ‘family only’ grind can be mind numbing. Every one I know is seeking some sort of balance and ‘happiness’. “Do this so that will be easier= happiness”. Is there ever the answer to fulfilment/balance have we been sucked into the Oprah “follow your passion” b.s. because Penelope, sometimes I think that’s what it is: B.S. If Sheryl Sandberg is happy I say go for it! Michelle Obama is pissed she gave up her career so her husband can do his thing. She said once in a Vanity Fair interview she loved to work because it gave her something other than family/relationships to focus on. Keep talking about they grey areas because that’s where the juice is. There is no one or the other. We are all trying to figure it out daily. Thanks for another great post Penelope !

  13. Cindy Day
    Cindy Day says:

    I have a feeling people will hate all over this but… Thanks for this post! I don’t think anyone should work themselves to death or do things that people “expect” them to do because ultimately this will lead to disappointment whether you’re a women OR a man. I think women feel the pressures of motherhood too early – especially with many young girls having children in their teens, as well as women seeking out a man to take care of them because maybe that’s how it was in her family, and/or how she has seen the roles of women displayed in media with movies, reality tv, false expectations of love (as in “The Culture Code” by Clotaire Rapaille), etc. It makes me sad because I see a lot of mature women who have a family and kids but they are utterly unhappy because they never gave themselves the proper time to pursue and/or find their own passions. I admire women like Sheryl Sandberg, because she stands for not only being able to balance her family and her career but she clearly has taken the time to know herself completely and followed her passions, which has led her to not only success but true inner happiness. In my opinion, that’s what life is all about :)

  14. Mary Beth Williams
    Mary Beth Williams says:

    Penelope, this is a great post, thank you. I could write a book about the innovative ways I’ve designed to make my daughter my first priority….I worked nights and weekends, my husband was home then….then I worked at a school where she was….anyway…you are right about this …. children should be our priority and much of what is wrong in America is that women are not putting their children first. I read a book by Maria Shriver she wrote that she’s always felt that if you don’t do right by your children, nothing in life really matters….I have always felt that if I know I’m doing right by my daughter then everything else will be fine no matter what…if I’m not doing right by her for any reason, nothing else really matters. My mom did not want to stay home with her kids, and I really feel like I missed out. I was so jealous of my friends who had moms were at home, who picked them up from school, took them to school, took them shopping…..some of what she did was her choice, some was not….but parents who really pay attention make a difference. Children want their parents time and attention. Some of the most neglected children in this country are those with rich parents who do not give them the time of day, they give them everything else but. A child deserve the best a parent has to give. It sometimes requires a parent to give up some of their own desires, but that is what they signed up for when they had children. That is not to say that a mom or dad don’t deserve to take care of themselves, it’s just that our children deserve to feel that they are the best thing that ever happened to us, because they are. Thank you Penelope for being the wonderful mother that you are. I can tell that you are putting your children first, and that takes moral courage, fortitude and strength.

  15. Mary Beth Williams
    Mary Beth Williams says:

    I wanted to add that I think there is away to do “some” work and still make our children our top priority. It’s just sacrificing quailty time with our children is not the way to do it.

  16. S
    S says:

    Why is that Type Triple A personality women get a bad rap but the Type Triple AAA men don’t – almost revered – fact is that the western world has a paradigm that triple AAAswholes are the only way to be successful – your article shows how corporate is anti-family / society

  17. Anne-Sophie
    Anne-Sophie says:

    I don’t have kids (yet), but I know that time is the most valuable thing we have. Would I like to be insanely rich? Sure. But would I want to give up my lifestyle and my time in order to work around the clock? No, because I know my time is limited.
    I can imagine that Sandberg will regret her decision some time in the future when her kids are older and she missed their entire childhood. I would not want to be in her shoes.

    • Mary Beth Williams
      Mary Beth Williams says:

      I like what you are saying because if you found out how her kids feel about this, or how they will feel about it in the future it would be very telling, I am pretty darn sure. What you say is true, thank you.

      • Anne-Sophie
        Anne-Sophie says:

        Oh yes, the kid’s perspective will indeed be interesting. I can only speak for myself, but I loved when my mom was at home and loathed it when she had to go to work. I wanted her to be around, not a nanny.

  18. pm
    pm says:

    I am a mother of a teenage daughter, doing reasonably well at my career. I am however planning for the years after my daughter is gone and I have the capability to spend 100-hr a week at work, if i want to.
    What i have found alarming is the ‘lack’ of mindfulness about career, that I have seen in women. they start off like men, and have a fabulous start and then, if they chose to have kids, they don’t just downshift and then disappear, sometimes never to comeback again.
    I read a comment about someone being ’55’ and so, out of the race( paraphrasing), but that is just the kind of mindset, that encourages women not to come back. It is hard to go where there are no clear role models and paths, but if I don’t, what will i teach my daughter? – €˜you have to chose to be happy with one aspect of your life, either be a good mother and wife or have a satisfying successful career'. I do not want my daughter to feel so depressingly limited about what life can offer:(
    It will require planning and hard work and it will be a lot of balancing — I started working in my early 20s and I will continue to work for as long as I am coherent, I love my work and I love my child. I will make choices to pick one or the other day to day, but I choose to not give up either aspect of my life over the long run…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think it’s true that what we need are role models for women who downshift for kids and then go back in, full-steam-ahead.

      That’s why I brought up Meg Whitman and Arianna Huffington. On days when I feel like I’m never going to be able to have a Big Job again, I look at what they did, and I think I just need to keep working, however I can now, and later I can strategize a big upshift in my work life.

      The problem with these exmaples, though, is that both women had high-earning husbands. The first time that I downshifted, and then geared back up, it was financial hell. And I wonder, how do you shift up and down in career when the money is not flowing freely?


  19. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    I love this post. It’s very honest about the situation.

    Nonetheless, I’m one of the freaks who would love be Sheryl Sandberg. I absolutely want to go as far as she has gone. I haven’t read too much about her before, but since reading this post when it first went up a couple of days ago I’ve been reading everything I can find, and really enjoying it.

    I’m not too worried about Sheryl’s kids, or my potential kids. Both of my parents growing up were incredibly successful in their careers and had to travel often; we usually had an au pair around, and sometimes I went along with them to conferences. (They were very boring.) I don’t feel that I suffered from it. I’m doing very well and had a pretty happy childhood.

    It’s a bonus, though, that my partner is looking forward to the opportunity to downshift his own career to be with the kids if/when he becomes a father. (Whereas I am in the midst of starting a charity on top of my day job, and kicking around a startup idea.) I don’t think kids suffer from having two career-oriented parents, but having one home does help anyway.

  20. Jean
    Jean says:

    Sandberg's WRONG when she says that the thing holding women back is women's ambition — most women are just ambitious about having a family and building relationships over making money. Success is great, but not if it comes at the cost of your personal life. You will never be able to raise your own children again, when you retire. It’s not that they don’t want to be successful, it’s that they believe that being a mother to the children you birthed is something worth doing, rather than paying someone else to do it. That’s ambitious.

  21. Jen Wolf
    Jen Wolf says:

    I think this misses what’s big and important about Sandberg and her message.

    Most of us can see the benefits of having MORE women in senior leadership positions — whether in the private sector or public sector. That things are better run with more women (up to 50%) often makes sense anecdotally to people, but moreover has been borne out in study after study after study. We have great reason to believe that foreign diplomacy, Congressional politics, and financial trading would be different–and in some ways better–with more women at the top. And those are just a few examples.

    So we want to get there. More women in politics, at top universities, as F500 CEOs, as trailblazing entrepreneurs. And to get there, it’s not at all necessary that most women want Sandberg’s job. Because there aren’t that many positions. What she’s calling for is for MORE of those FEW positions to be held by women. There ARE women who want that, and it doesn’t need to be remotely close to a majority of them for Sandberg’s message to matter.

    You’re missing the point when you say “women don’t want Sandberg’s job.” Sandberg is reaching out in particular to those who DO want the job. And she’s a unique and refreshing voice acknowledging that it will be frustrating and not always fair, but it’s possible. You may think that message is already clear or that it’s unnecessary, but I can assure you that amidst everything else, it is neither. We need her voice.

  22. Merlin Dorfman
    Merlin Dorfman says:

    Kind of an incoherent rant from beginning to end, but people my age surely remember the mirror-image debate during the 60s: women who wanted to stay home as full-time wives and mothers were traitors and reactionaries; they owed it to themselves and other women to get out of the house and fulfill themselves (which could not be done as a wife and mother). I had hoped we had reached the point where women (and men!) could decide for themselves how they wanted to live their lives, but we may never actually get there.
    I did want to make one specific comment about the contents of this rant: the part about the Obamas is pure bull. It’s well known on the Washington scene that they do not socialize very much; they choose to stay home as a family. It’s also untrue that Michelle quit her job to manage the family while his career took off: she worked full time through at least 2006 (when her income was over $270,000, almost twice his salary as a US Senator). She cut back to part time during the 2008 election and then took a leave of absence. And FWIW her mother lives in the White House so I doubt that her children spend a lot of time with sitters or nannies [except maybe the Secret Service :-) ].
    (Ref: Wikipedia page on Michelle Obama)

  23. Clara
    Clara says:

    I’ve also heard Mrs. Obama stress on numerous interviews how family is THE most important thing to her husband, the President, She goes on to say how they make it a point to spend dinners together with the kids, unless the President is out of the country doing Presidential things…
    I would wager to bet that after kissing Sanddberg’s cheek, he returned home to tuck his kid in for the night.

    Entertaining post.

  24. Epole
    Epole says:

    OH, here’s some food for thought:

    “Her mother, Adele, gave up studying for a Ph.D. and teaching college French in order to raise Sheryl and her two younger siblings, David and Michelle. Her father, Joel, is an ophthalmologist.”

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/07/11/110711fa_fact_auletta#ixzz1mCtRhuh9

    And please (oh please) note that article is chock full of impossibilities that we simply accept instead of taking a minute to ponder: (e.g. someone is described as humble, timid, self-sacrificing and yet (somehow) just happens to: get high powered mentoring, a coveted executive position, a few million in venture capital, their book published, whatever.) In fact if you look at anyone who has had access to class capital (i.e., ivy educated) and you’ll see that narrative spouted again and again.

    My guess is Sandberg good at identifying people who do actually have the responsibilty (and stress) for getting things done and then (without guilt, remorse or pause) leverages their willingness to slave away. That correlates with an ability to skillfully flatter and manipulate, but not with much else in terms of full developed, mature self-aware personalities (or parents.)

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      That sounds like an easy conclusion to draw about a female and an unlikely conclusion drawn about a man in the same position of power.

  25. Sheryl
    Sheryl says:

    Love the post. V. Thought provoking.

    I see two connected but different points here. One is whether it is ok to have kids and let others care and/or raise them. The answer depends largely on your value system and financial situation, NOT whether you are male or female. Equality demands that we stop expecting women to bear the burden of this and/or to FEEL more guilty if they also choose to go back to work.

    Second is the issue of hired help. If a couple both want to work, particularly after kids, then domestic help is a necessity not a luxury. Cleaners, nannies, the works. And women should not be judged for it, neither is it a class issue. Again, it boils down to ‘enabling’ equality. The average working woman still does the lion’s share of housework and childcare. Until this is not the case, hired help is a must if women are to have the energy to fire on all cylinders in the Boardroom.

    • Gwen
      Gwen says:

      “I see two connected but different points here. One is whether it is ok to have kids and let others care and/or raise them. The answer depends largely on your value system and financial situation, NOT whether you are male or female. Equality demands that we stop expecting women to bear the burden of this and/or to FEEL more guilty if they also choose to go back to work.”

      Yes! I think this really is the important point. Well stated, thanks for bringing it up.

  26. rgoltn
    rgoltn says:

    Love your blog. However, I am not sure if Facebook’s IPO does anything for women. Sandberg may be a role-model for some women. I dunno. I know lots of successful women like her who are divorced with/without kids and miserable. They have money, but they are unfulfilled.

    She is a billionaire now and can do so much to truly affect people’s lives. Maybe THAT is the role-model behavior we want to see. yes, she is COO of Facebook. That is great. She can “do it all.” Let’s see what she does in Chapter 2 before calling ger a role-model.

  27. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    I don’t have a problem with Ms. Sandberg. Small children need care. A Mom who is an able manager can hire care.

    Older children need guidance. Ms. Sandberg busted her butt in the years when her children were small, when their problems were small and when care more than guidance was needed.

    When Facebook goes public and she cashes in she’ll be well positioned to ramp back and spend more time with children as they enter their formative years when they’ll need more guidance than care.

    She’ll have the resources to make sure they’re educated and connected in order to set about their own lives.

  28. TR
    TR says:

    I don’t think that women lack ambition. When you sign up to raise the next generation of humanity & raise them well – that takes balls, skill, and hard work. I’m a working mama & my hands are always busy, my heart is always alive, and every hour of every day is full. The most ambitious thing for me to strive for is BALANCE. Just because that doesn’t pay in dollars doesn’t mean there is no value. It is just a value that a male-dominated society has a tricky time understanding.

  29. Per Håkansson
    Per Håkansson says:

    Great article; daring and provocative. Makes people think and rethink. Kudos!

    My wife and I share the parental responsibilities and are both stay-at-home parents and working parents. We have solved it by working part-time so both of us can enjoy raising our kids together as well as developing professionally and intellectually. Why have kids if you don’t take time to be and grow with them?

    It’s about hacking your life so that it works for you and your family. Forget titles, promotions and social status. Be nice, do good stuff and have fun!

  30. Vishwa
    Vishwa says:

    Just when I was all impressed with Sheryl’s TED talk on Women leaders, my friend introduced me to this blog.And now that I have read it all with others comment too. It has got me thinking. And here is my POV,I am a married woman with a lovely husband who supports my ambition and before marriage I had my parents. In short for all the little, (means a lot to me)that I have achieved so far in life is all because there has always been someone there sacrificing her “I” for “ME”, for her kids and her husband. Yes, my mother is a home maker and I wonder how would it be if I were to be brought up by nannies? My mom has been my best friend,my mentor, my strength. And now coming to think of my next chapter with kids,I wonder where is that balance,that I would so like to have. It leaves me with one answer… it is a matter of plain and simple CHOICE. My career and “I” where kids cease to be another thing on my to-do list VS My kids and “ME” as a complete mother, with career as another thing on my to-do list… I rest my case!

  31. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Just read this article and it is GREAT. As a working mother myself, you tend to believe that a super succesful business woman is really the definition of perfection, but when you really start peeling the layers, and see the things they are sacrificing, ESPECIALLY when it comes to your children, I don’t think many woman would take the trade off. I have dissected the lives of those succesful woman, wondering how great it would be, and then realize…it really wouldn’t be so great. For me personally, the real goal in my life is to find that perfect balance between my work, my family, my friends, and all the amazing things life provides that gives you perspective and peace. That is my definition of success. Maybe one day….:)

  32. Jacob
    Jacob says:

    Does your website have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email.
    I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

  33. horen23
    horen23 says:

    For Udacity, in contrast, working with companies to train existing and future employees is now the heart of its business model. It has tie-ups with several firms, including Google. It recently formed a partnership with AT&T, along with Georgia Tech, to offer a master’s degree in computer science.

  34. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    What is the point of this article? “Most women don’t want to be Sandberg”? So what? Most women don’t have what it takes to be a Sandberg anyway… just as most men don’t have what it takes to be a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

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