Facebook COO: Men run the world

@CNNMoneyTech May 18, 2011: 5:19 AM ET
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encouraged Barnard graduates to be aggressive in pursuing their path through government and business.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encouraged Barnard graduates to be aggressive in pursuing their path through government and business.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- What if men ran half of households around the world and women ran half the companies? Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg thinks the world would be a better place.

Sandberg offered that idea in her commencement speech on Tuesday in New York to a group of 600 graduating students from all-women college Barnard, as well as their camera-festooned families.

"Let's just say I'm not usually in a room with this many women," quipped Sandberg, who works in Silicon Valley's tech trenches. As Facebook's No. 2, she provides the "adult supervision" -- and a widely admired wealth of operational expertise -- to the tech world's hottest company.

Her message to Barnard's graduating crop was clear: There aren't enough women in the workforce, and the gender gap is very much part of our society.

"Men run the world," she told the audience, before rolling out a list of statistics to support the statement. One eye-popping one: Among the world's 190 major heads of states, nine are women. Those numbers haven't moved in the past decade.

"It's very clear that my generation is not going to change this problem," she said.

Sandberg, who served as chief of staff for the Treasury Department and a top executive at Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) before joining Facebook as 27-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg's right-hand woman, wants to see young women be more aggressive in pursuing paths in government and business.

"Men are more ambitious. We will never close the achievement gap if we don't close the ambition gap," she said. "Women underestimate their performance."

But Sandberg will admit -- it's not easy.

She spoke candidly about her early days at Facebook and the criticism she faced in the beginning, specifically citing a "well-read blog post" (she didn't name the blog, but our money's on a Gawker post labeling her a liar) blasting her soon after her arrival.

"I cried some when I was alone, " she said. "Then I told myself it didn't matter ... My only response was just to do my job and do it well."

Sandberg has hit similar themes before in her speeches, including an extremely popular TED Talk on "Why we have too few women leaders." Many in the crowd at Barnard responded enthusiastically: Graduating student Tiara Miles declared Sandberg's advice a "perfect fit" for the way Barnard educates its students.

Parents also liked what they heard.

"Having two daughters, I loved it," said Doug Roger, a father in the audience."If we have more women in government and positions of responsibility, we'd have fewer wars, less famine."

Sandberg joins a flock of tech luminaries making the rounds at universities this month, delivering commencement speeches.

Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley spoke at his alma mater, the Syracuse School of Information Studies, about his twisty journey from working $6-an-hour jobs to launching a series of hotshot tech startups. Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) CEO Steve Ballmer slipped a few Skype jokes into his University of Southern California talk last week, which focused on finding your passion and being tenacious in pursuing it. Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) co-founder Steve Wozniak also urged students at Michigan State University to pursue the projects they really care about: "Don't waste your life," he advised.

Woz's comment was a poignant echo of Steve Jobs' one and only commencement talk, delivered six years ago at Stanford and still often cited as the speech of Steve Jobs' life. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life," he told the crowd.  To top of page

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