Sheryl Sandberg is officially done as Meta COO. What really changed for top-ranking women
It’s an impossible task for any individual leader to represent her entire demographic. It’s also—usually—just not very fun.
Over her 14 years as Facebook’s chief operating officer, she became one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful women, while enthusiastically building her own glass pedestal. Her bestselling corporate-feminist manifesto, Lean In, elevated Sandberg into a public role model, whose every move took on greater resonance for all female executives—including her decision to step down.
So it’s not surprising that everyone else has been paying close attention to her gender, too. What might Sandberg’s exit “reveal about women’s progress in tech,” one New York Times headline pondered in June, a day after another assessed what “Lean In has meant to women.” That “high-profile manifesto about women’s career and life choices changed the way we talk about workplace and leadership issues,” one Bloomberg op-ed argued, while The Atlantic retorted that Sandberg’s ode to “white feminism” was responsible for kindling “the crackling hellfire of corporate America.”
It’s a lot for one woman to carry! (And we’re not even getting into the complicated business legacy of her day job at Meta.) But it’s a common fate for any member of an underrepresented group who rises as far as Sandberg did, when her organization or her industry fails to promote her demographic peers into equally powerful positions. Sure, Sandberg actively embraced (and, ahem, leaned into) the responsibility of representing all women—but did she really have a choice? Or was she making the best of a common no-win situation?
“This thing happens for women, where they become ‘gender ambassadors,’” says Francesca Manzi, an assistant professor of management at the London School of Economics. “What they do, how they perform, or what they say all seems indicative of what other women are like—and that in and of itself is just a symptom of gender bias.”