After speaking at the annual World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, where Sheryl Sandberg’s subject surprisingly wasn’t the pending Facebook IPO, but women, she has come under public fire for sounding too elitist, too out of touch with the plight of everyday working women who haven’t had the “luck” and opportunities that she has. She has also been criticized for thinking that women need to be more ambitious , aim higher and stop blaming men for holding back their careers and instead take responsibility themselves.
From newspapers, Internet, social media, Ted Talks, YouTube, to even Blooming Betty, Sheryl Sandberg ihas been everywhere. I mean I guess if you were about to become the “1.6 billion dollar woman”, you would be too. For those that are wondering who she is, Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook since 2008. Prior to Facebook, Sandberg was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. She attended both Harvard University and Harvard School of Business (graduating at the top of her class), has two children and is married to successful entrepreneur David Goldberg of Survey Monkey. She is consistently part of every important list of powerful women and speaks regularly on promoting and encouraging women in their careers. She sees herself as a role model for women in business and technology. In speeches, she often urges women to “keep your foot on the gas pedal,” and aim higher.
Really, lets be honest, very few could debate her accomplishments and talent. She is crazy smart, crazy driven and supposedly has a big heart and soul to match. But as Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a research organization on work-life policy, and director of the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University states, “I’m a huge fan of her accomplishments and think she’s a huge role model in some ways, but I think she’s overly critical of women because she’s almost implying that they don’t have the juice, the chutzpah, to go for it, or that Women are, in fact, fierce in their ambition, but they find that they’re actually derailed by other things, like they don’t have a sponsor in their life that helps them go for it.” It is not that simple and it is not just about ambition or good child-care.
I for one, could not agree more. Every woman’s path to success is individual and usually far more complicated than just whether or not you have ambition. Ambition is multidimensional. One can have ambition to be a good mother, a good citizen, reduce your carbon footprint or maybe simply to get through one week without any major screw ups. Our ambitions are ours to own.
But when it comes to luck. Well that's where I do take issue with the criticism. What has it been like fore Sheryl Sandberg? Her luck or “golden path”, as cited in the New York Times, included having powerful mentors sprinkled along her career path. As well as having lots of money to afford her certain opportunity (like childcare). After Harvard and Harvard Business School, she quickly rose from a post as an economist at the World Bank to become the chief of staff for Lawrence H. Summers (who was her professor at Harvard), then the Treasury secretary. After that, she jumped to Google and, in 2008, to Facebook.
So, yes, Sandberg did grow up in a family where there were not huge money issues or illness that we know of, so maybe that is lucky. However, SHE got into Harvard, SHE was at the top of her class and got noticed by Larry Summers for her intellect and cultivated a mentoring relationship with Summers. She used that relationship as everyone would and should for that matter. And lets be honest. A relationship might give you opportunity, but isn't delivery and performance what propels you forward after that?
Luck, it must be said, is a loaded word. Sometimes someone's luck is nothing of their own doing, a result of the privilege of their birth. Sometimes we mean luck in the purest way, the happenstance of sitting next to the right person on a bus. (This sort of luck seems practically mythical; one wonders if it ever happens.) But for many people, "luck" is something of their own making: They work hard, network, self-promote, and so on, and one day, they end up in the right place at the right time and catch their break. Is that luck? Not in the same way, and telling someone who has worked hard that their success is a result of luck is insulting.
So, lets give Sheryl Sandberg a break. She might not know what it’s like to live pay check to pay check but she certainly can teach us something about working hard, networking and the power of women. And you know what? I am good with that.
What do you think about luck? How much does it play into people’s success? How much has it played into your own?