Sheryl Sandberg was once in a meeting in New York, pitching a deal, when she needed a bathroom break. Embarrassed, the man to whom she was pitching had to admit he had no idea where the women’s bathroom was. Sandberg wondered whether they had just moved in to the office. No, came the reply, they had been there for a year. “Are you telling me that I am the only woman to have pitched a deal in this office for a year?” Sandberg later recalled. “And he looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, or maybe you’re the only one who had to go to the bathroom.’”
Facebook’s chief operating officer (COO) is used to being the only woman in the boardroom—but she doesn’t like it. On Wednesday she joins some of the world’s biggest movers and shakers1) at the World Economic Forum2)’s annual shindig3) in Davos, Switzerland, as one of the six co-chairs. The other five are, of course, men. There will be other powerful women in attendance4): German chancellor Angela Merkel will deliver the opening address; Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director5), is there too. But still the vast majority of those in attendance are men.
If Sandberg has anything to do with it, that is going to change. At last year’s Davos meeting, she held a breakfast to promote women’s causes, a subject she is expected to take up there again, in between adding more of the world’s most powerful people as friends of Facebook.
Sandberg told her bathroom story in a speech at TED6), the tech world’s version of Davos. There too she was calling for more sex equality: “The numbers tell the story quite clearly,” she told the audience in Washington, DC. “One hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13% are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C-level jobs7), board seats, tops out at 15%～16%. The numbers have not moved since 2002, and are going in the wrong direction.”
The same could not be said of Sandberg. This year Facebook is expected to go public, in an initial public offering8) (IPO) share sale that could value it at $100bn and hand its COO her second huge Silicon Valley payday. Her first came at Facebook’s arch-rival: she had joined Google when the search company was in its profitless infancy, and left after its IPO with a fortune in stock options9). Google made Sandberg a multi-millionaire; Facebook could now make her a billionaire.