Facebook’s Sandberg Tells Harvard Women Executives Lack Equality

Women are treated differently from men in the top echelons of corporations, Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said.

“We need to acknowledge openly that gender remains an issue at the highest levels of leadership,” Sandberg, 42, said today in a speech at Harvard Business School in Boston, ahead of a graduation ceremony tomorrow. “The promise of equality is not equality.”

The speech was Sandberg’s first since Facebook began selling shares May 17, said Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman. The company has lost 16 percent of its market value since going public. Sandberg didn’t discuss the offering and declined to answer questions after the event.

The proportion of women at high executive levels has remained about 15 percent or 16 percent since she graduated from Harvard Business School in 1995, Sandberg said. As a result, women’s expectations for careers are often lower than those of men, she said.

“We will not close the leadership gap until we close the professional-ambition gap,” she said. “We need more women not just to sit at the table, but as President Obama said a few weeks ago at Barnard, to take their rightful seats at the head of the table.”

President Barack Obama spoke at Barnard College, an affiliate of Columbia University in New York, on May 14.

Gaining Courage

Sandberg said she recently gained the courage to begin speaking about the treatment of women in business. She was glad to be able to address the Harvard Business School class because 50 years have passed since the institution started admitting women, she said in the speech.

A female graduate of that first class told her that the school had converted one of the men’s restrooms to a women’s room, Sandberg said.

“They left the urinals in,” Sandberg said. “She thought the message was super clear: We’re not sure this whole girl thing is going to work out. And it case it doesn’t, we’re not going to have to reinstall the urinals.”

“Those urinals are long gone,” she said.

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, has come under scrutiny for appointing a board of seven white men. The company gained 3.2 percent today to close at $32 in New York.

-- Editors: Jeffrey Tannenbaum, Kevin Miller

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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