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Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg stepped down to refocus her work on women’s issues and philanthropy

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Sheryl Sandberg, who just stepped down as the chief operating officer of Facebook parent company Meta, said she plans to refocus her work on women’s issues and philanthropy as Roe v Wade is under assault.

‘This is a really important moment for women. This is a really important moment for me to be able to do more with my philanthropy, with my foundation,’ Sandberg, 52, told Fortune Wednesday after having announced her departure from the social media giant.

Sandberg, one of the most powerful women in tech and the top lieutenant to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, made the decision to leave Meta over the weekend after having worked at the company for 14 years.

‘I’m really focused on what I’m going to do,’ she explained. ‘Next, philanthropically and I am staying on the board and I have a leader of the philanthropy now.’

Sandberg is no stranger to advocacy work. She is the co-founder and board chair of the Lean In Foundation, which acts a global community dedicated to helping foster leadership, advancement and inclusion for women in the workplace.

Last month, she took to her public Facebook page to condemn the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion revealing the court had voted to strike down Roe v Wade, despite the fact that Meta’s Respectful Communication Policy banned employees from discussing abortion. 

Sheryl Sandberg (pictured in January 2018), who just stepped down as the chief operating officer of Facebook parent company Meta, said she plans to refocus her work on women’s issues and philanthropy as Roe v Wade is under assault

Sandberg told Fortune that although there is never a ‘perfect moment’ to leave a company, she decided that right now her focus needs to be on advocacy work, noting that her role at Meta left little time for outside priorities.

‘It’s just not a job that leaves room for a lot of other stuff in your life,’ she explained, adding that the current political climate is a ‘very important moment for women.’

The 52-year-old, whose book Lean In advocated for women to play larger roles in corporate leadership, reiterated that even though she’s leaving Meta to focus on philanthropy, she won’t be too far removed from the company.

‘My transition is going to be long. I’m not leaving until the fall and I’m staying on the board,’ Sandberg explained.

When questioned why she chose to step down now, while Meta is facing criticism from lawmakers and its advertising agency battles privacy concerns, the executive stated there won’t ever be a ‘perfect’ time to step down.

‘There’s never one perfect moment. You know, there’s no end or beginning of the ads business. There’s no clean. There’s no, you know, distinct or definitive chapters on the Metaverse,’ she said, noting that when she joined the Facebook family in 2008, when the company was still a start-up, she only intended to work there for five years.

The COO said she has no plans to become a CEO anywhere else and even noted that Zuckerberg was supportive of her departure. 

‘He was what he always is, is really supportive, really supportive,’ she said, noting that working with him was the ‘the honor and privilege of a lifetime.’

She claims she made the decision to step down over the long Memorial Day weekend and told Zuckerberg shortly after, adding: ‘Mark and I are so close and have known each other for so long.’

Sandberg then issued a public statement Wednesday revealing her resignation from Meta’s leadership team this upcoming fall.

'This is a really important moment for women. This is a really important moment for me to be able to do more with my philanthropy, with my foundation,' Sandberg said. She is pictured with her Lean In Foundation at a women's march in January 2019

‘This is a really important moment for women. This is a really important moment for me to be able to do more with my philanthropy, with my foundation,’ Sandberg said. She is pictured with her Lean In Foundation at a women’s march in January 2019

Sandberg (pictured at a women's march in January 2019) is the co-founder and board chair of the Lean In Foundation, which acts a global community dedicated to helping foster leadership, advancement and inclusion for women in the workplace

Sandberg (pictured at a women’s march in January 2019) is the co-founder and board chair of the Lean In Foundation, which acts a global community dedicated to helping foster leadership, advancement and inclusion for women in the workplace

‘Sitting by Mark’s side for these 14 years has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime,’ she wrote in Wednesday’s statement. ‘I am so immensely proud of everything this team has achieved.’ 

‘When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life.’

In his own Facebook post on the C-suite shakeup, Zuckerberg called Sandberg’s departure ‘the end of an era.’

‘I’m going to miss running this company with Sheryl,’ he wrote. ‘I’m sad that the day is coming when I won’t get to work as closely with Sheryl. But more than anything, I’m grateful for everything she has done to build Meta.’

Zuckerberg in a lengthy note said that he doesn’t plan to replace Sandberg in the company’s existing structure. Javier Olivan will serve as Meta’s new COO.

Sandberg leads Meta’s advertising business and was responsible for nurturing it from its infancy into an over $100 billion-a-year powerhouse. 

Zuckerberg said Olivan’s ‘role will be different from what Sheryl has done. It will be a more traditional COO role where Javi will be focused internally and operationally, building on his strong track record of making our execution more efficient and rigorous.’

‘I think Meta has reached the point where it makes sense for our product and business groups to be more closely integrated, rather than having all the business and operations functions organized separately from our products,’ he said.

Olivan has worked at Meta for more than 14 years and has led teams handling Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

Sandberg, one of the most powerful women in tech and the top lieutenant to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announced her departure from Meta on Wednesday

Sandberg, one of the most powerful women in tech and the top lieutenant to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announced her departure from Meta on Wednesday

However, despite Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s mutual praise for each other, there is still speculation over whether the COO voluntarily left Meta or was pushed out. 

Last year, The Wall Street Journal revealed the share of Meta employees who reported to Sandberg had declined in recent years while other managers, including Olivan, saw growth.

Regardless of her alleged dwindling staff, Sandberg consistently served as Meta’s fall-person and continued to publicly defend the platform on a host of issues including election inference and instigation of violence.

The newspaper, in October, reported that under Sandberg the company’s legal team had grown about 60 percent faster than Meta overall, as the social media giant battled antitrust challenges, shareholder lawsuits and other legal problems. 

Sandberg alluded to these efforts in a Bloomberg interview Wednesday, saying her tole at the platform was ‘not the most manageable job anyone has ever had.’

‘It’s a decision I didn’t come to lightly,’ she added, before reiterating: ‘I want to make more room to do more philanthropically, to do more with my foundation.’

A Harvard University graduate, Sandberg is the author of several books, including the 2013 feminist manifesto Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

A Harvard University graduate, Sandberg is the author of several books, including the 2013 feminist manifesto Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

While she said taking another job in business or politics was ‘pretty unlikely’ Sandberg added: ‘I learned a long time ago – Never make any predictions about the future.’

Sandberg has served as chief operating officer at the social media giant for 14 years. She joined from Google in 2008, four years before Facebook went public. 

She has an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, and is a noted philanthropist in addition to authoring the bestselling book in support of professional women, Lean In. 

Her Lean In Foundation has started 60,000 ‘circles,’ similar to networking groups, that consist of women helping other women achieve personal and professional goals. 

In 2015, Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg died tragically and unexpectedly at age 47, after suffering a heart arrhythmia on a treadmill. The couple had shared two children together.

Sandberg later dated Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, but split with him in 2019 after a three-year relationship.

In February 2020, Sandberg announced her engagement to Kelton Global CEO Tom Bernthal. It’s unclear whether a wedding date has been set.

Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg was vice president of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, chief of staff for the United States Treasury Department under former President Bill Clinton.

Her impressive resume also includes stints as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company and an economist with the World Bank.

A Harvard University graduate, Sandberg is the author of several books, including the 2013 feminist manifesto Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

However, despite Zuckerberg and Sandberg's mutual praise for each other, there is still speculation over whether the COO voluntarily left Meta or was pushed out

However, despite Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s mutual praise for each other, there is still speculation over whether the COO voluntarily left Meta or was pushed out

In early May, Sandberg reiterated her stance on abortion rights, taking to Facebook to say the medical procedure was ‘one of our most fundamental rights.’

‘Every woman, no matter where she lives, must be free to choose whether and when she becomes a mother,’ she posted. ‘Few things are more important to women’s health and equality.’ 

The day after she publicly supported Roe v Wade, Meta reportedly dropped the hammer and started enforcing its communications policy, which prohibits employees from discussing ‘opinions or debates about abortion being right or wrong, availability or rights of abortion, and political, religious, and humanitarian views on the topic.’

However, Meta employees seemingly disregarded the ban and were allegedly discussing the controversial topic on the company’s internal message boards.

In early May, Sandberg reiterated her stance on abortion rights, taking to Facebook to say the medical procedure was 'one of our most fundamental rights.' She made the post, despite the fact that Meta's Respectful Communication Policy bans employees from discussing abortion

In early May, Sandberg reiterated her stance on abortion rights, taking to Facebook to say the medical procedure was ‘one of our most fundamental rights.’ She made the post, despite the fact that Meta’s Respectful Communication Policy bans employees from discussing abortion

Meta VP of HR Janelle Gale held town hall meeting on May 19 telling staff abortion discussions had become ‘the most divisive and reported topic’ on the company’s internal chat system.

She said the topic isolated certain employees, was harmful to the work environment and put the organization at ‘an increased risk’ of being seen as a ‘hostile work environment,’ The Verge reported at the time.

‘Even if people are respectful, and they’re attempting to be respectful about their view on abortion, it can still leave people feeling like they’re being targeted based on their gender or religion,’ Gale said during the meeting. ‘It’s the one unique topic that kind of trips that line on a protected class pretty much in every instance.’ 

The communication policy was met with criticism from employees who argue the policy banning abortion discussions contradicts rules allowing workers to talk ‘respectfully’ about other hot-button issues like Black Lives Matter, immigration and transgender rights.

It is unclear if the abortion communications policy played a role in Sandberg’s departure from Meta.

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