You can’t have a conversation about smashing the glass ceiling to smithereens without an extended discussion on Sheryl Sandberg. As one of the most powerful women in business today, Sandberg is well known not only by white collar office workers and management students, but by most any American as well. Her position as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and especially her 2013 New York Times bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, have both made her a household name and a highly respected figure.
But what else do you know about leading tech exec Sheryl Sandberg? Well, probably not much. But that’s no cause for concern here, since we’re here to provide you with more insight on the life and times of this highly revered individual.
Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Sheryl Sandberg.
1. Sandberg was born in Washington, DC to parents who were professionals in their respective fields, though neither her mother or her father were directly involved in the business field. Her mother taught French at the college level, and her father was an ophthalmologist. She was raised Jewish, she had a Bat Mitzvah, and she maintains her Jewish identity to this day. Even though Sandberg was born in the nation’s capital, she did not live there for very long, as her parents moved the family to the warmer climes of North Miami Beach, Florida when she was just two years old.
2. Sandberg’s impressive intelligence and academic prowess began at a very early age. She graduated from North Miami Beach High School in 1987 with an unbelievable 4.646 grade point average. You might think that this would have easily earned her the valedictorian spot, but amazingly, it did not; this astronomical GPA was only good enough for the ninth position in her graduating class. Of course, with grades like that, Sandberg was still a member of the National Honor Society.
3. Sandberg’s 4.646 GPA was good enough to get her into Harvard for her undergraduate studies. She finished her BA in 1991, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in economics. In fact, she was the was the top economics student in her class, and was awarded the John H. Williams Prize for the honor. After working for a few years as a research assistant for her former professor, she began her master’s degree at Harvard Business School in the fall of 1993. Two years later, in 1995, she had her MBA in hand and graduated with highest distinction.
4. Here’s an unlikely factoid about Sandberg: while she was an undergraduate student at Harvard, she taught aerobics classes. Remember, this was in the late 1980s, when aerobics was at the height of its popularity: it was leotards, leg warmers, headbands, the whole “Let’s Get Physical” ordeal. When you think about it, though, Sandberg’s position at the front of an aerobics class makes sense, as she’s always been a natural leader and has never been one to sit and watch the world go by. Clearly, however, she’s gone from getting lean to leaning in.
5. Before she became the world famous COO of Facebook, Sandberg was fortunate enough to hold several other high profile jobs. When Bill Clinton was President, Sandberg worked for the United States Secretary of the Treasury as the Chief of Staff. Then, in 2001, she moved to California and landed a position at Google as Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations. Of course, after meeting Mark Zuckerberg at a holiday party in December of 2007, a conversation was started about Sandberg becoming Facebook’s COO, and she formally made the move to the burgeoning social networking company in March 2008.
6. Sandberg has been on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company since 2010, and for a while, her name was often mentioned as a possible future CEO. Rumors about her taking over the helm of the House of Mouse ramped up in the past year or two, since the current CEO is planning to step down in the next year or two. Sandberg would certainly make a strong addition to the Disney team, but as things stand now, it probably won’t happen: in June 2016, Sandberg officially declared that she’s not leaving Facebook for Disney anytime soon. Her exact words? “I don’t want another job.” Great for her, but too bad for Disney.
7. In addition to serving on Disney’s board, Sandberg is active on the boards of several other corporations and nonprofit organizations. On the corporate side, from 2009-2012, she was a director of Starbucks Corp, and from 2006-2008, she was a director of eHealth, Inc. She is on the Facebook board and has been since 2012. As far as nonprofits are concerned, Sandberg is active on the boards of Women for Women International, V-Day, and the Center for Global Development. In the past, she served on the boards of the Brookings Institution and the Ad Council. Clearly, Sandberg is a woman in high demand.
8. Sandberg’s marriage to SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg has been well documented in the press as well as in her book Lean In. However, Goldberg was actually her second husband. Sandberg was first married in 1993, when she was just 24 years old, to Washington, DC businessman Brian Kraff. It didn’t last very long, though; the couple separated just a year later. Sandberg does not appear to be bitter or resentful about it, though. She chalks it up to being young and not knowing what direction her life would eventually take. Her marriage to Goldberg was significantly more successful: they had two children and were, by all accounts, quite happy.
9. Unfortunately, however, Sandberg lost her husband Dave Goldberg in a freak accident in 2015. The couple were on vacation in Mexico, and Goldberg was exercising on a treadmill. He fell, hit his head, and passed away as a result of the resulting head trauma. Sandberg was devastated, but has remained stoic to the public. At his memorial service, she was quoted as saying, “Dave was my rock. When I got upset, he stayed calm. When I was worried, he said, ‘We’ll be OK.’ I sure could use him right about now.”
10. What does Sheryl Sandberg have in common with Beyonce, Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Garner, and Condoleezza Rice? They’re all big supporters of the Ban Bossy campaign. This is a movement started in 2014 to encourage women, girls, and pretty much everyone to stop using the word “bossy” to describe young girls. The word creates a stigma, they argue, and discourages females from aspiring toward leadership positions. It’s sponsored by LeanIn.org and The Girl Scouts, among others.
11. Sandberg has many fans, but she says she knew she had made it when Oprah sent out a Tweet about her. Since that fateful moment several years ago, Sandberg has had the opportunity to sit down with the former queen of daytime for an extended interview, which aired on Oprah’s television network in 2013. Sandberg has also been featured prominently in O Magazine. It’s safe to say that Oprah is a big fan of hers.
12. You’d be hard pressed to find another woman who is considered as influential as Sandberg is. The list of accolades she’s racked up is quite impressive. She’s been on the Fortune list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business five years, ranking as high as number ten in 2014. The Wall Street Journal named her one of the 50 Women to Watch in 2007 and 2008. She was on the Time 100 in 2012, and was ranked as one of the 25 Most Influential People on the Web in 2009 by Business Week. Sandberg has also received ranks and honors from Forbes, Newsweek, and The Jerusalem Post.
13. In 2010, Sandberg gave a talk at the annual TED conference titled, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” Watching it now, it appears to be a precursor to her successful Lean In book. She discusses the importance of “sitting at the table” with men and getting in on the conversation rather than sitting off to the side (both literally and figuratively), as well as ideas for figuring out a viable work-life balance. It’s considered one of the more popular TED talks, especially on the topic of women and business.
14. Sandberg is a champion of working moms everywhere, and at every job she’s held while she’s been a mother herself, she’s worked for accommodations to keep the playing field level. For example, when she was employed at Google and became pregnant, she lobbied for — and got — Google to create parking spots specifically for pregnant women. (Anyone who has ever suffered through the perils of morning sickness or the heaviness of a third trimester will know what a big deal this is.) And, once her first child was born, she refused to ignore his needs, even going so far as to pump breast milk on her regular schedule. She often talks about how she occasionally used a pump during conference calls, dismissing the noise of the pump as a passing truck when others asked about it.
15. Despite her tenacity at the office, Sandberg did take a full three month maternity leave when her first child was born, and it was a transformative experience. Recently, she has called for better paid maternity leave for female employees, especially for those who are single mothers (a category in which she now includes herself, since her husband passed away). On Mother’s Day in 2016, Sandberg officially asked the US Government to enact better maternity leave policies, pointing out that, “The odds are stacked against single mothers in this country.”
16. When it comes to common but terrible childhood maladies, few are more feared than the dreaded head lice. Oh sure, they’re tiny little bugs, but they’re incredibly hard to get rid of, they spread like wildfire, and they make sufferers itchy as all get out. Oh, and they don’t discriminate: if you’re a kid, even if you’re the kid of a rich and successful and powerful business magnate, you’re still eligible for a cringeworthy case of lice. This is exactly what happened to Sandberg’s daughter — but wait. It gets worse. Sandberg discovered that her daughter had head lice when she brought her daughter along on a business trip. What’s even more horrifying is that she discovered the lice while they were flying on eBay’s corporate plane. That’s a tough one to explain to your fellow business execs, many of whom are male and probably don’t deal directly with childhood lice infestations, and it’s especially tough at 30,000 feet.
17. Can a working woman have it all? The high paying powerful job and her family? According to Sandberg, no — the idea of having it all is little more than a myth. Sandberg does, however, support flexible work schedules, including the freedom for parents to telecommute when and if it’s appropriate. What’s more, Sandberg believes vehemently in workplace equality; she believes that one day, women will be valued in the workplace just as much as men are.
18. Not everyone is a fan of Sandberg and her beliefs, though, and like anyone else in the spotlight, she’s received her fair share of criticism. Critics have called her elitist and not in tune with many of the demands on working families today. However, unlike many people in the spotlight, Sandberg seems to be OK with it. In fact, in Lean In, she even anticipates the criticism, saying that she’s aware of some of the ongoing struggles that women and families are faced with, and that her main goal is to offer advice that can be used by the most women possible.
19. We’ve often heard the metaphor of a corporate ladder, but according to Sandberg, this isn’t an accurate description. Instead, Sandberg describes her career, and any successful career, as a jungle gym, and encourages women to do the same. In Lean In, she writes, “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”
20. Sorry to be blunt or state the obvious, but Sheryl Sandberg is rich. Her estimated net worth is $1.3 billion, thanks to her salary plus book residuals and stock holdings. She's currently one of the richest women in the entire world and that's not going to change anytime soon. As long as Facebook keeps doing what its doing, Sandberg will be wealthy for years to come.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker