Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Facebook COO Sandberg's next crusade?

February 6, 2012: 12:25 PM ET

Credit: maryannerussell.com

Sunday brought another glowing profile of Sheryl Sandberg. The Facebook COO, who is No. 12 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list, is on a PR roll. Though being called "the Justin Bieber of tech" in the New York Times comes close, I think, to jumping the shark image-wise.

The Times article honed in on Sandberg's third "job" besides playing backup to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and wife and mother to her two young kids at home. This would be: being the most vocal champion for women who do it all. Do it all at once, that is. Sandberg's is a can-do, should-do message that's controversial. (Some weary working women bristle that of course a woman who earned $30.8 million last year can afford the support structure to keep racing ahead in her career.) Nonetheless, it's worth noting that the story that the Times mentions to illustrate Sandberg's mantra—the tale of a young Sandberg hire who courageously steps up to the job, domestic dreams be damned—was first told here by Sandberg in an essay she wrote in 2009 called "Don't Leave Before You Leave." And by the way, her message, she told us then, applies not just to striving women but to ambitious men as well:

Making decisions too early, trying to plan life too carefully, can close doors rather than keep them open. Any time you make a plan, you do it with imperfect information; the further in advance you make that plan, the less information you have. You never know how you will feel or what choices you might face. Take life one step at a time and don't make decisions before you have to.

A few months ago we were interviewing a fantastic woman to join Facebook's Business Development team. After we extended an offer, she came in to ask some follow-up questions about the role. She did not mention lifestyle or hours. But she was the typical age of the people who leave before they leave. So I shocked her by asking the question no one asks. "Priti," I said, "I'm sorry for bringing up something so personal, and feel free to tell me you don't want to discuss it. But just in case you are thinking that you might want to have a child sometime soon and need to stay where you are to have room to slow down, I'd love a chance to tell you why that makes it even more important that you change jobs now."

A few weeks later, Priti Youssef Choksi found out she was pregnant. Today, she is a mom, Facebook's director of business development, and one of the rising stars on Sandberg's watch.

As Facebook prepares for its IPO, another senior woman has joined its ranks: Rebecca Van Dyck, who was global CMO at Levi Strauss for the past year and was in marketing at Apple (AAPL) before that. While Sandberg & Co. deserve credit for bringing women up at Facebook, the company also deserves tough scrutiny for its board deficiency: How can it be that Facebook, whose biggest and best base of customers is female, does not have a single woman on its seven-member board of directors?

Sandberg isn't a Facebook director, but she's on the board of Walt Disney (DIS) and she recently stepped off the board of Starbucks (SBUX). Surely she could wield some of her clout at her own company. More work to be done.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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