What Sheryl Sandberg’s exit reveals about women’s progress in tech


When Sheryl Sandberg stated this week that she was resigning as chief working officer of Meta, she additionally mirrored on her legacy as a lady in tech.

“I’m particularly proud that this can be a firm the place many, many distinctive ladies and folks from various backgrounds have risen by way of our ranks and change into leaders — each in our firm and in management roles elsewhere,” she wrote in an announcement posted on her Fb and Instagram pages.

But at the same time as Sandberg lauded the progress of girls at Meta, the broader actuality for feminine leaders on the high of the tech business has been way more disappointing. And together with her exit this fall, Silicon Valley is dropping one in all its most seen and outspoken feminine executives, leaving few — some would say zero — related friends in her wake.

Sandberg, 52, was a part of a cohort of girls at main tech firms who made keynote speeches, rose to the extent of founders like Larry Web page and Mark Zuckerberg, and had a seat on the desk at high-powered enterprise gatherings just like the Allen & Co. convention in Solar Valley, Idaho. However through the years, many of those ladies — together with Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Ginni Rometty of IBM — have departed, typically with their reputations in tatters.

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Extra broadly, ladies haven’t made notable good points in recent times within the highest echelons of Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Meta and different tech giants the place the corridors of energy proceed to be dominated by males. The business’s file on feminine management trails that of different industries, at the same time as tech exerts extra affect within the world financial system and in individuals’s lives.

“The CEO is the face of the corporate,” and within the tech business, “in some way collectively the world appears to need the face to be a white man,” stated Jenny Lefcourt, a founding father of All Increase, a nonprofit targeted on advancing gender and racial equality, and an investor at Freestyle Capital.

At Silicon Valley’s high 150 companies by income, 4.8% have been led by ladies on the finish of 2020, unchanged from 2018, in response to a report by the legislation agency Fenwick & West. In distinction, the proportion of feminine CEOs of firms within the S&P 500 index rose to six% on the finish of 2020 from 4.8% in 2018.

Some ladies in positions of energy at publicly traded tech firms, akin to Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s normal counsel, have change into targets of harassment. Others, akin to Françoise Brougher, the previous chief working officer of Pinterest, have sued for discrimination. And in recent times, feminine tech leaders have typically seemed to be employed to wash up another person’s mess, resulting in the time period “glass cliff,” a play on “glass ceiling” and a reference to the excessive dangers of the roles.

Some ladies now in command of public tech firms embody Safra Catz of Oracle, Lisa Su of Superior Micro Gadgets and Sarah Friar of Nextdoor, although they’ve tended to be extra non-public than Sandberg.

Alphabet, which owns Google, and Microsoft even have ladies of their government suites, akin to their chief monetary officers (Ruth Porat at Alphabet, Amy Hood at Microsoft), and people heading up enterprise items, together with Susan Wojcicki at YouTube. A technology of tech startups are additionally led by ladies, akin to Melanie Perkins at design software program maker Canva and Fidji Simo at supply firm Instacart.

However ladies nonetheless face obstacles in practically each aspect of the tech ecosystem. Annual range stories printed by Amazon, Google and Apple present incremental good points for girls in management. Enterprise capital companies stay dominated by males, whereas feminine founders garner a tiny portion of funding. Tales about poisonous workplaces, discrimination and harassment proceed reverberating all through Silicon Valley.

“If we keep at this present price of progress, it’s going to take manner past our lifetimes to get to parity,” Lefcourt stated. “We’d like exponential change from right here.”

Within the web period, some ladies have been tapped to guide, together with Carol Bartz, the previous Autodesk CEO who grew to become Yahoo’s CEO in 2009. Different ladies joined startups like Google, which quickly ballooned. When Sandberg left her job as a Google vp for Fb in 2008, she helped create a brand new archetype of an skilled feminine government who was serving to to professionalize startups based by males. (Fb was renamed Meta final 12 months.)

“It wasn’t that she was only a COO, Mark made positive she was actually elevated in stature,” stated Emilie Choi, the chief working officer of Coinbase, a cryptocurrency trade, referring to Sandberg and Zuckerberg, the founding father of Fb. Choi stated she and different ladies in tech used Sandberg’s template to work alongside tech founders.

In 2013, Sandberg printed her bestselling enterprise manifesto, “Lean In,” which inspired ladies to seize alternatives and to extra aggressively search promotions and raises.

At public tech firms, extra ladies have been named to government jobs. Ursula Burns was elevated to Xerox’s CEO in 2009. Mayer grew to become Yahoo’s CEO in 2012 after an extended profession at Google, whereas Rometty was named IBM’s CEO that very same 12 months. In 2014, Catz grew to become co-CEO at Oracle. Microsoft appointed Hood chief monetary officer in 2013, whereas Google employed Porat as chief monetary officer in 2015.

However lots of them encountered difficulties steering getting older tech firms. Of these ladies, solely Catz, Hood and Porat stay of their roles.

“The snail’s tempo of progress for girls leaders in Silicon Valley is worse than disappointing,” stated Nicole Wong, a deputy chief expertise officer for the Obama administration and a former Twitter government. “It makes the commitments that tech leaders made round racial and gender range in 2014 look performative.”

Ladies in tech have continued talking out about unfair remedy. In 2020, Brougher reached a $22.5 million settlement with Pinterest for discrimination and retaliation. A discrimination lawsuit by Emily Kramer, a former chief advertising and marketing officer on the monetary startup Carta, is working its manner by way of the courts.

There have been some indicators of progress. Over the previous 5 years, Katrina Lake of Sew Repair, Julie Wainwright of The RealReal, Jennifer Hyman of Hire the Runway and Whitney Wolfe Herd of Bumble took the businesses they based public. And following in Sandberg’s footsteps, feminine chief working officers at the moment are extra widespread in tech. They embody Choi at Coinbase, Gwynne Shotwell at SpaceX and Jen Wong at Reddit.

At Meta, Sandberg employed and promoted ladies, akin to Marne Levine, the chief enterprise officer, and Lori Goler, the pinnacle of human assets and hiring. The proportion of girls in Meta’s administration with titles of director or increased elevated to 35% in 2021, from 30% in 2018, in response to the corporate’s knowledge.

Meta additionally developed ladies who now lead different tech firms, together with Simo, who oversaw the primary Fb app earlier than changing into Instacart’s CEO final 12 months.

“Sheryl’s management has actually mattered to a whole lot of us,” stated Kate Rouch, the chief advertising and marketing officer of Coinbase who was an worker at Meta till August.

However when Sandberg leaves her job within the subsequent few months, Javier Olivan, a longtime Meta government, will take over the function of chief working officer. Olivan shall be one in all 4 high deputies to Zuckerberg targeted on expertise and coverage — and all of them are males.





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