Top Five

Sheryl Sandberg

By Jane Eisner

The Forward 50 is our annual look at the American Jews who made a difference in the past year. Each day, we will spotlight one of our Top 5 picks, leading up to Sunday night when the entire package — along with some very special surprises — will go live.

Lean in.

Sheryl Sandberg’s singular achievement in 2013 was to embed that phrase into the contemporary lexicon, and prompt a new conversation about family life, women in the workplace, and the demands and price of professional success.

The chief operating officer of Facebook, and the only woman to serve on its board of directors, Sandberg, 44, used her lofty (and wealthy) perch atop the corporate world to remind women that the barriers to success are not only systemic and societal — they also come from within.

Her central message — that the movement for equality in the workplace is stalled partly because women are not ambitious and determined enough to “lean in” to their careers — was uncomfortable and controversial, especially given the marketing hype that greeted the March publication of her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead.” Some dismissed Sandberg as too privileged to be prophetic.

But her message caught on. The book has spent 33 weeks so far on The New York Times Best Seller list. And a spokeswoman from leanin.org said that there are now 10,000 “circles” — Sandberg’s word for self-help groups — across America, and in at least 50 countries, devoted to enhancing women’s advancement.

Sandberg grew up in Florida’s Jewish community, born to a physician father and a stay-at-home mother who channeled her energy and intellect into the movement to free Soviet Jews and into other human rights concerns. (Sandberg was recently quoted as saying that her mother, at age 70, had decided to become a bat mitzvah, an opportunity not available to her when she was younger.)

After graduating from Harvard, Sandberg worked for Larry Summers at the World Bank, and then, after graduating from Harvard Business School, she worked for the famed McKinsey & Company consulting firm. She logged four years as Summers’s chief of staff when he ran the Treasury Department, and then took a leap of faith and moved to Silicon Valley, where in 2001 she went to work for a little-known tech company named Google.

Then onto Facebook, which had about 500 employees when she started and now has nearly 5,000. Her own worth is estimated to be more than $400 million.

So there is a certain amount of luck attached to Sandberg’s story, but, as she writes in her book, women tend to feel “lucky” at professional success; men act as if they deserve it.

Sandberg was faulted for not paying enough attention in her book to the institutional barriers to full equality — lack of affordable child care, inflexible workplaces, scarce paid family leave, just to name a few — and for pushing what some characterize as an elite message geared more for the executive suite than for the ordinary workplace.

In an interview on “60 Minutes,” Norah O’Donnell asked Sandberg about the charge that, given her wealth and status, it’s easy for her to urge women to lean in.

“It is easier for me to say this,” Sandberg replied. “And that’s why I’m saying it.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.