Is Sheryl Sandberg a viable role model for women?

There was an interesting article this morning in the NYT online edition, The $1.6 Billion Woman, Staying on Message.  The woman in question is Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and co-chair of the just completed World Economic Forum in Davos.  While in Davos- and in many other venues, Sandberg has been actively encouraging women to take charge of their careers and boldly go where they may not have considered going before.

The article pointed out that, with the majority of Facebook users being women, her advocacy of women makes the company that much more appealing to users.  As the public face of Facebook, she has also made the company more attractive to women as a place to work.  [Interesting to note: she is not on the Board of Directors;  in fact there are no women on the company’s Board].  In other words- it’s a win for women and a win for the company.

Two powerful women CEOs in Silicon Valley, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, did little to support other women.  As someone who has been organizing programs for professional women for years (and who works with others doing similar things), I know that neither Carly nor Meg made themselves available to address local women’s groups.  There were no women’s affinity groups at eBay until after Whitman left. I don’t see much of a change in Whitman since she assumed the role of CEO at HP.   I suspect they just wanted to downplay the fact that they were women.  And yet, they were in a unique position to mentor and inspire future women leaders.

In her talks, Sandberg tells women that they must push for opportunities and take risks to succeed. In her way of thinking, women do not have to choose between work and family;  they can do both.  Her tone is one of- don’t complain, go out and do it. The fact that she is so visible gives her a unique platform in which to make that case.

She has been criticized for being insensitive to the challenges faced by most working women who don’t have her brain-power, education credentials, and financial resources.   Is her message a little too simple?  Yes.  Are there complicating factors being overlooked?  Yes.  Can every woman do what she’s done?  No.  She’s not perfect- the message is not perfect.  Still, I applaud her for helping women focus on what they CAN do to advance their careers rather than bemoaning everything that stands in their way.