High-ranking women in business—because there are so few of them—are often saddled with the unfair expectation that their mere presence in the C-suite will benefit other working women. Sheryl Sandberg gladly embraced that role when she published her 2013 bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and founded its eponymous foundation, LeanIn.org. Instantly, she became the face of 2010s-era corporate feminism.
Now, as she steps down from a 14-year run as chief operating officer of Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc., Sandberg has said she wants to shift her focus even more toward women’s issues. “It really feels like a very, very important moment, when I think more focus there would be important to me, personally,” Sandberg told Bloomberg News. But her decade-long track record doesn’t suggest she’s had a meaningful impact on the plight of working women. In fact, some believe that by focusing on self-empowerment she completely overlooked the forces that continue to keep women from equal pay, reaching positions of power, and equality writ large. “I don’t subscribe to the ethos that women simply need to work harder to be successful,” says Natasha Lamb, a managing partner at Arjuna Capital, an activist investment firm based in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., who successfully pushed Facebook to release pay gap stats. “There is structural sexism built into the system.”