From a public relations point of view, the ascendance of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to its board of directors may say more about the company in the breach than in the appointment. To wit: How could a company in A.D. 2012, whose primary customer is female, heretofore be one of only 11% of Fortune 500 companies without a woman on the board?
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System asked Facebook in February to add a woman to its board, reports the Los Angeles Times’Jessica Guynn, and the advocacy group Face It has had a petition urging Facebook to include women and minorities. Women’s rights group Ultraviolet also has had a petition going.
Anupam Palit, head of research at GreenCrest Capital, applauds the appointment of Sandberg but tells Guynn there is a “bigger issue” with Facebook. “The company has been criticized for not having women and minorities in leadership positions. It seems that their answer to everything is always Sheryl Sandberg,” says Palit, who adds that the company seems to react to criticism rather than getting out in front of an issue before the media sets its sights on it.
Sandberg joined Facebook in March 2008 after having served as vp of global online sales & operations at Google from November 2001 to March 2008, according to her bio at Bloomberg Businessweek. Before that she was chief of staff at the Treasury Department, a management consultant with McKinsey and an economist for The World Bank. She currently sits on the board of Walt Disney Co.
“Sandberg has visibly earned the position during her tenure, building and running the social network’s business operations, which include ‘sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communications’ as Facebook has grown to be worth billions,” posts TechCrunch’s Eric Eldon. “She’s also become a top advocate for female leadership in the workplace, writing and speaking on the topic for years -- particularly on how she has managed such a high-profile job while having a family.”
As one commenter to Eldon’s story puts it: “I'd be impressed finding out that she can even manage to sleep sometimes.”
“Sheryl has been my partner in running Facebook and has been central to our growth and success over the years,” says founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement. “Her understanding of our mission and long-term opportunity, and her experience both at Facebook and on public company boards make her a natural fit for our board.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Shayndi Raice and Joann S. Lublin write that the appointment “is likely to have the effect of keeping Ms. Sandberg — who is worth $1.4 billion from her 44 million shares of Facebook restricted shares and options -- deeply vested in the social network.” Recruiters tell them that she has been “wooed for CEO” positions in the tech and media worlds, including that of the New York Times.
Other Facebook board members are Washington Post CEO Donald Graham,; venture capitalist Marc Andreessen; Accel Partners general partner Jim Breyer; Clarium Capital founder Peter Thiel; Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Erskine Bowles, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina.
“When the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta asked Zuckerberg why there were no women on his company’s board of directors, he replied, ‘I’m going to find people who are helpful, and I don’t particularly care what gender they are or what company they are,’” Bianca Bosker pointed out in a “Women In Tech” blog on Huffington Post earlier this year. “I’m not filling the board with check boxes.
Others would say that it’s Mark’s sandbox, and he controls the bucket and shovel, too. Everyone else is there for companionship. While Zuckerberg outright owns about 28% of Facebook, he controls 57% of all shareholder votes due to its two-class stock structure.
“To put it simply, he can do whatever he wants with Facebook, and you, the shareholder, don't have a say -- not even if you team up with every other outside shareholder in the company,” Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik pointed out in May.
When all is said and done, though, no one seems to dispute Zuckerberg did something very right yesterday.