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Sheryl Sandberg worries #MeToo could cause backlash

The Facebook executive shared her own encounters with sexual harassment and urged firms to put in place clearer policies to investigate allegations.

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Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg shared her stories about sexual harassment and urged companies to implement clearer policies to investigate claims of sexual misconduct at work.

James Martin/CNET

A spotlight has been placed on sexual harassment and assault in the past month, with women around the world using the hashtag "MeToo" to share their experiences.

In a lengthy Monday Facebook post, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg addressed Silicon Valley's diversity issues, and noted a concern that the movement could backfire.  

Sandberg said women don't need to just be hired, they also need to be mentored. "Four years ago, I wrote in Lean In that 64 percent of senior male managers were afraid to be alone with a female colleague, in part because of fears of being accused of sexual harassment." This, Sandberg said, is a factor that hurts women in the industry.

"The percentage of men who will be afraid to be alone with a female colleague has to be sky high right now," she wrote. "Whether [equality] means you take all your direct reports out to dinner or none of them, the key is to give men and women equal opportunities to succeed."   

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Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sandberg's post comes as high-profile scandals over alleged sexual misconduct by powerful men emerge, beginning with Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein scandal. The list includes Pixar co-founder John Lassetertech evangelist Robert Scoble and comedian Louis C.K., whose specials were removed from Netflix

Sandberg, a former executive at Google, pointed to instances of unwanted sexual advances from people in the industry, but noted they never came from her bosses. A power imbalance was the issue, she said, explaining "in every single one of these situations, they had more power than I did."

She outlined six steps in which organizations can help fight the issue:

  1. Develop workplace training that sets the standard for respectful behaviour at work
  2. Treat all claims -- and the people who voice them -- with seriousness, urgency and respect
  3. Create an investigation process that protects employees from stigma or retaliation
  4. Follow a process that is fairly and consistently applied in every case, both for victims and those accused
  5. Take swift and decisive action when wrongdoing has occurred
  6. Make it clear that all employees have a role to play in keeping workplaces safe -- and that enablers and failed gatekeepers are complicit when they stay silent or look the other way

"We have to be vigilant to make sure this happens," wrote Sandberg. "I have already heard the rumblings of a backlash: 'This is why you shouldn't hire women.' Actually, this is why you should."

It's not Sandberg's first time voicing about issues related to women in the workplace. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in October, she pointed out that gender gaps at work remain despite more companies committing to gender diversity.

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