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November 13, 2006

According to Sheryl Sandberg, there are too few female role models in business. But she and her colleagues at Google are working to change that. Sandberg, a graduate of Harvard Business School, is the vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, where she is credited with building its online advertising network into one of the largest in the world.  One of six women in Google’s Management Group, Sandberg believes it’s critical that women identify themselves as powerful.  For women in business, like women in all areas of life, the issues are complicated. Sandberg says that women trying to achieve power in the business world don’t want to be seen as “doing the woman thing.”  They want to be seen as capable and successful in their own right. But unfortunately, this reluctance to identify as women also results in a dearth of female role models, particularly at the senior levels, because women often resist “talking about differences.” Sandberg also points out that women are generally less comfortable negotiating for and promoting themselves.  Even she is not immune to the social impact of gender differences.  For example, while at Harvard Business School, Sandberg was one of a handful of students honored with the coveted “top student” award for the first-year class.  The only woman in the group, Sandberg was reluctant to tell people that she had been chosen; yet, the men spoke freely and often about the honor. Similarly, Sandberg was recently invited to attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.  Out of modesty, on the shared office calendar, she simple wrote “Fortune conference.” While talking to her peers during the Summit, she found she wasn’t the only one to do so. For Sandberg, these things have to change. Women have to actively promote themselves and embrace the success that comes with hard work. Complicating the issues faced by women in the workforce are the responsibilities they often hold in the home.  It seems to Sandberg that limited options lead to an untenable set of choices for women trying to cope with work and family so that many simply opt out of the workforce altogether. With leading-edge employment policies, Google is one of the companies that is actively redefining work in the new millennium. Turning to the possibilities for change, Sandberg says she loves it when she hears her friends call their daughters “bossy.”  Women need to be viewed as assertive—and it needs to starts young.  For Sandberg it’s also critical to develop an interest in education generally—and math, science and technology in particular—in young girls.  In 1985, for example, 37% of all computer science degrees were granted to women.  Today that number has plummeted to 18%; and the gap is only increasing. According to Sandberg, Google is a “place for people who love ideas,” and she wants girls and young women leading the way with big ideas and big dreams.  Sandberg, who has both, is one of those changing the face—and gender—of business in the 21st century.