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Au Revoir! Sheryl Sandberg Starts Her Own Next Chapter

As she retires to focus on women in the workplace and a new marriage, we take stock of her high-profile tenure at Facebook.
“I am not entirely sure what the future will bring,” Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most prominent women in tech, wrote in a social media post announcing her resignation from Facebook. “I have learned no one ever is.”
For 14 years, Sandberg, 53, has been chief operating officer of the company now known as Meta; she has accomplished much but also made crucial mistakes. (For instance, Cambridge Analytica and allowing Russian operatives to sow disinformation in 2016.) Also, some Facebook haters will never forgive her for her role in creating what they consider a monster. She wrote a seminal book about women in business called Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which was rightly criticized for its assumption of privilege—and wall-to-wall nanny coverage. But still, her position as Mark Zuckerberg’s equal and her expertise displayed at thousands of tech summits and Silicon Valley soirees have lifted the profile of female tech entrepreneurs, providing inspiration to countless women.
Her role as Mark Zuckerberg’s equal has provided inspiration to countless women.
It only helps women in business that Zuckerberg publicly credited Sandberg with growing Facebook/Meta into the company it is today. “When Sheryl joined me in 2008, I was only 23 years old and I barely knew anything about running a company,” he wrote in his own post. “We’d built a great product—the Facebook website—but we didn’t yet have a profitable business and we were struggling to transition from a small startup to a real organization. Sheryl architected our ads business, hired great people, forged our management culture, and taught me how to run a company. She created opportunities for millions of people around the world, and she deserves the credit for so much of what Meta is today.”

The Personal Side

Through her years in the spotlight, she has taken some steps that have (we hope) changed tech culture to some degree. “When I joined Facebook, I had a two-year-old son and a six-month-old daughter,” she recounts. “I did not know if this was the right time for a new and demanding role. The messages were everywhere that women – and I – could not be both a leader and a good mother, but I wanted to give it a try. Once I started, I realized that to see my children before they went to sleep, I had to leave the office at 5:30 p.m., which was when work was just getting going for many of my new colleagues. In my previous role at Google, there were enough people and buildings that leaving early wasn’t noticed, but Facebook was a small startup and there was nowhere to hide. More out of necessity than bravery, I found my nerve and walked out early anyway. Then, supported by Mark, I found my voice to admit this publicly and then talk about the challenges women face in the workplace. My hope was to make this a bit easier for others and help more women believe they can and should lead.”
My hope was to help more women believe they can and should lead.
We’ve also seen how a high-powered woman handles tragedy. In 2015, Sandberg’s beloved husband, Dave Goldberg, died while the two vacationed in Mexico, throwing her into “a life I was completely unprepared for: The unimaginable.” She wrote a book about her experience, Option B, that was more human and heartfelt than Lean In. We have also watched as she has recovered from that nightmare, finding love again with TV producer Tom Bernthal. The two will marry this summer, which may be one reason she wants to leave the grind of running a tech company.

Though Sandberg was mostly vague about her future, she was specific about one thing. Starting with the basic principle of Lean In—anything is possible when women come together to share their experiences, build new skills, and cheer each other on—she developed a non-profit that fosters networking, education, and community. This is apparently where her heart is because she committed to “focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.”

Congratulations to Sandberg, a forceful, devoted, somewhat imperfect (but, hey, that makes her human) role model, and brava for keeping the focus on women’s progress. She has lots of years left and we can’t wait to see what she does with them.
By Jeannie Ralston


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