Facebook's Sandberg says she identifies with Ellen Pao

The more powerful and successful a woman becomes, the less she's liked, says the "Lean In" author.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
2 min read

Facebook executive and "Lean In" author Sheryl Sandberg says many women saw themselves in Ellen Pao.
Facebook executive and "Lean In" author Sheryl Sandberg says many women saw themselves in Ellen Pao. Getty Images

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said she and many women can identify with Ellen Pao, who lost her high-profile sex discrimination lawsuit against a storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

"I thought what was so interesting about the trial is that so many women, not just in technology, but across industries, saw their own experiences there," Sandberg said during an interview with Bloomberg Television on Thursday at the Virgin Disruptors event in San Francisco.

Sandberg's first public comments about the landmark trial came on the same day "="" a="" proposal="" by="" kleiner="" perkins="" caufield="" &="" byers="" that="" the="" vc="" firm="" would="" waive="" nearly="" $1="" million="" in="" legal="" costs="" --="" if="" pao="" agreed="" not="" to="" appeal="" her="" loss"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="fee456a4-f30f-4175-8fb5-d1c2f43090ac" slug="ellen-pao-considering-not-appealing-high-profile-case-to-avoid-nearly-1-million-in-legal-fees" link-text="Pao's legal team said it was " section="news" title="Ellen Pao 'considering' Kleiner offer to waive fees in sex case if she doesn't appeal" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"fee456a4-f30f-4175-8fb5-d1c2f43090ac","slug":"ellen-pao-considering-not-appealing-high-profile-case-to-avoid-nearly-1-million-in-legal-fees","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"culture"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Culture","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> . Pao, the current interim CEO of social-networking and news site Reddit, sued former employer Kleiner Perkins for $16 million in lost wages and potential earnings. Kleiner fired Pao in 2012.

Pao said she sued Kleiner Perkins to force a change in behavior at the firm, and at other companies as well.

When Sandberg, who was interviewed alongside Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, was asked by Bloomberg West anchor Emily Chang if she saw herself in Pao during the monthlong trial, Sandberg nodded quickly.

"Sure. I mean, I wrote a whole book about experiences (like) this," Sandberg said, referring to her 2013 best-selling book, "Lean In," which shares stories about the struggles of women in business and offers advice on how to succeed in a male-dominated workplace.

"What's happening is that we have systematic stereotypes of women, systemic bias of women," Sandberg said. "For men, likeability and success is correlated: as they get more successful and more powerful, they're better liked.

"For women, success and likeability are negatively correlated," Sandberg continued. "As a woman gets more successful and more powerful, she is less liked."

Branson said unless corporations change their outlook, "I actually don't think we're going to get to a situation where boardrooms are very equal (for) women for another 100 years."

"Wow...I just fainted," Sandberg said.

Branson added that any new companies should be required to have a 50-50 split when it comes to the number of men and women on their boards.

Sandberg was then asked if the gender problem was different for Silicon Valley than it is for other businesses.

"I think Silicon Valley has one particular problem, which is that the pipeline of women engineers is dwindling," Sandberg said. "In 1985, women were 35 percent of computer science majors in the United States. We're probably 18 percent today, so that is a uniquely Silicon Valley problem.

"But if you look at the leadership ranks, there is not an industry out there, no matter how many of its workers are women, that has enough women in leadership," Sandberg continued.

She then said that 75 percent of workers in the nonprofit industry are women, but not many are in charge.

"Do you know how many women run their big nonprofits? Twenty-one percent," Sandberg said. "So our biases against women as leaders need to be exposed, understood and changed."