Updated Jun 2, 2022 - Economy

Sheryl Sandberg's Facebook departure marks end of "Girl boss" era

Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg in 2019; Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sheryl Sandberg's departure from Facebook marks the end of an era for a certain kind of corporate feminism, which the 52-year-old didn't invent but absolutely launched into the stratosphere with her 2013 book "Lean In."

Why it matters: This is a moment worth marking. Sandberg started a conversation about women in the workplace more than a decade ago that's ongoing and felt impactful — many more employers offer the kind of benefits, like paid leave, she pushed — yet in so many ways the situation for women in the workplace hasn't much changed.

  • The pandemic highlighted the fact that women with families could "Lean In" all they wanted, but without reliable child care there was only so far they could go.
  • One of Sandberg's key data points: the number of women in the C-suite has increased over the years. But still, only 6.4% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women.

Driving the news: In a Facebook post Wednesday, Sandberg said she was stepping down from her role as chief operating officer at the company after 14 years.

Details: Back in 2010, Sandberg electrified many women with a Ted Talk called "Why we have too few women leaders." Her advice — to take a seat at the table, to be ambitious — set the stage for what you might call the Girl Boss era, a time when merely being a woman CEO was considered progress. (Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes killed that notion with fire.)

  • Sandberg's caught a lot of flak for her book since it came out. Some argued it missed systemic issues that women can't simply solve by sitting at the table.
  • She's acknowledged the criticism and made many of these issues a focus at her Lean In Foundation, a women's advocacy group, broadening out her lens to keep pace with the times — issuing reports focused on women of color, for example.
  • "I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home," Sandberg wrote in 2016 Facebook post, a year after the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg — her grief the subject of a second best-seller.

What's next: Without the PR burden of Facebook (aka Meta) on her daily docket — the WSJ cites reports she's feeling burnt out and like a "punching bag" for all the company's problems — it looks like Sandberg could focus even more on women's issues.

  • "I am not entirely sure what the future will bring — I have learned no one ever is," she wrote in her post Wednesday. "But I know it will include focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women."

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to state that “Lean In” was published in 2013 (not 2014).

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