Sheryl Sandberg to Speak at HBS

The Facebook COO will address degree candidates on May 23.

The chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg ’91, M.B.A. ’95, will address Harvard Business School (HBS) graduates as Class Day speaker on May 23, the school has announced.

Since arriving from rival Google in 2008, Facebook’s second-in-command has helped increase what was a base of 70 million users to more than 750 million active "friends" today, representing about 11 percent of the world's population, according to Forbes. An outspoken advocate for women leaders, Sandberg—a mother of two—has recently made headlines for voicing her opinions on work-life balance and the difficulties women face trying to juggle motherhood with a high-powered job. 

“There's no such thing as work-life balance. There's work, and there's life, and there's no balance,” she said in an interview for the Makers series from PBS and AOL. “I feel guilty when my son says, 'Mommy, put down the BlackBerry, talk to me,' and that happens far too much. I think all women feel guilty. I think what's interesting is I don't know many men who feel guilty.”

Ranked fifth on the Forbes list of “the world's 100 most powerful women” in 2011, Sandberg—who oversees Facebook’s business operations, including sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy, and communications—has been vocal about leaving the workplace by 5:30 each evening so she can have dinner with her children, and sometimes working until late at night or very early in the morning to prove that she is still giving it “her all.”

“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg said in her Makers video. ”I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.”

In late 2007, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, met Sandberg at a Christmas party, and by February 2008, felt she would be a “perfect fit” for his company. According to a profile in The New Yorker, Sandberg began work at Facebook that March, asking questions and listening. “She walked up to hundreds of people’s desks and interrupted them and said, ‘Hi, I’m Sheryl Sandberg,’ ” recalls Chris Cox, the vice president of product, who sits next to Zuckerberg. “It was this overt gesture, like, ‘OK, let your guard down. I’m not going to hole up with Mark. I’m going to try and have a relationship with you guys.’ ”

Prior to Facebook, Sandberg was vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, and was instrumental in launching Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm. Before joining Google, she served as chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury Department under President Clinton, helping lead its work on forgiving debt in the developing world.

Born in 1969 in Washington, D.C., Sandberg attended public schools and excelled. She graduated from Harvard in 1991, earning the Williams Prize as the top student in economics; her mentor was future Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers. After graduation she was recruited as his research assistant at the World Bank, where she worked on health projects in India, dealing with leprosy, AIDS, and blindness. In 1995, she earned her M.B.A. from HBS with highest distinction.

Addressing Barnard’s graduating class in 2011 as keynote speaker, Sandberg urged students to “lean in” to leadership roles.

“We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap,” she said.  “But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in.  Leadership belongs to those who take it.  Leadership starts with you.”

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