Sheryl Sandberg

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and leader of the Lean In movement, is an author, philanthropist, and executive who uses her voice and resources to advocate for women, education, and anti-poverty efforts

Authored by Madeline Richard

Biographical Highlights

Sheryl Kara Sandberg is a technology executive, author, philanthropist, and activist. She began her career in Silicon Valley in 2001 when she joined Google three years after the company was founded. Sheryl left Google after eight years and joined Facebook as the Chief Operating Officer, serving as the first and only woman on Facebook’s board (Luscombe 2013). In 2010, Sheryl spoke at a TEDWomen event in Washington, D.C. and spoke candidly about the barriers professional women face in a presentation titled “Why We Have So Few Women Leaders.” Her TEDTalk has since become wildly popular with nearly 6.6 million views; making it the second most popular TEDWomen talk (TED 2016). The reaction to her presentation encouraged Sheryl to share the ideas she discussed in her presentation, which she did with the 2013 publication of Lean In. Sheryl also founded LeanIn.Org in 2013, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization encouraging women to share their stories and create support groups to maximize their career potential. Sheryl was one of Time’s “The World’s Most Influential People” in 2012 (Muhtar 2012).

Historic Roots

Sheryl was born in Washington, D.C. in 1969 to Adele and Joel Sandberg and moved to Miami with her family when she was two years old. Sheryl has two younger siblings: David, a pediatric neurosurgeon, and Michelle, a pediatrician. The Sandberg family is Jewish, and were very involved with Temple Sinai in North Miami Beach, especially in the temple’s advocacy for the freeing of Soviet Jews (Dorschner 2012). In a story about Soviet Jews published by the Miami Herald in 1982 when Sheryl was just 13, she shared that she attended her first rally when she was one year old, and had “participated in protest marches, handed out petitions, and worked on letter-writing campaigns” to help advance their cause ever since (Dorschner 2012).

Sheryl graduated ninth in her class with a 4.646 GPA from North Miami Beach Senior High School in 1987 (Dorschner 2012). After high school, Sheryl went to Harvard where she majored in economics and graduated summa cum laude. She wrote an undergraduate thesis on the relationship between economic equality and spousal abuse and was advised by her economics professor Larry Summers (Eisner 2013) Upon Larry’s appointment as Chief Economist at the World Bank, he invited Sheryl to work for him as a research assistant (Sandberg and Scovell 2013). During her time at the World Bank Sheryl had the opportunity to travel to India to learn about a team working to eliminate leprosy from India’s “most remote and poorest regions,” prompting Sheryl to go back to Harvard to study for a law degree, which she later changed to business. Sheryl received her MBA in 1995 and spent a year working for McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm in Los Angeles, before returning to DC to work for D. Summers, then the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Department as a Special Assistant. Dr. Summers was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Secretary of the Treasury in 1999 and promoted Sheryl to be his Chief of Staff (Dorschner 2012). During her time with the Treasury, Sheryl “witnessed the technology boom from a distance” and decided to move to Silicon Valley after the presidential election in 2000 (Sandberg and Scovell 2013).

After searching for a job for almost a year, Sheryl was offered the position of Business Unit General Manager at Google, a start-up founded three years earlier. Sheryl accepted and volunteered to oversee sales and operations for AdWords, a program that sells advertisements appearing next to related search results. After it proved its success Sheryl then grew it to include AdSense, a program that places advertisements on outside websites (Auletta 2011). Sheryl spent seven years working at Google where she grew their advertising revenue to billions of dollars as Vice President of Online Sales and Operations.

After working in the same position for five years, Sheryl was ready to move on with her career. Sheryl met Mark Zuckerberg at a Christmas party and within six months accepted the position of Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, at that time a start-up of 130 employees (Dorschner 2012). When she first joined the organization, Sheryl saw her biggest challenge as “setting up the necessary business processes without harming the freewheeling culture” as she tried to make the organization profitable (Sandberg and Scovell 2013). Sheryl and her team adopted an advertising strategy focusing on “discretely presented” and targeted advertisements, similar to what she had done at Google (Auletta 2011). Sheryl’s strategy was enormously successful, earning the company $3.7 billion in revenue in 2010, a stark contrast to their $56 million dollar loss in 2008, the year she first joined (Tsotsis 2012).

Sheryl met her future husband Dave Goldberg in 1996 while she was working for McKinsey & Company. In 2002 when Sheryl moved back to California they reconnected, were married in 2004 (Luscombe 2015). Dave commuted to Los Angeles from San Francisco, where he and Sheryl lived, for four years before the two decided to have children when he moved to San Francisco full time. Sheryl credits Dave as being integral to her success, as he always encouraged her to lean in to her job and share parenting responsibilities. They referred to their marriage as Shared Earning/Shared Parenting, an idea that Sheryl discussed in Lean In (Sandberg and Scovell 2013). In 2015, Dave collapsed on a treadmill and fell, ultimately sustaining head trauma that would lead to his death (Luscombe 2015). Sandberg has since spoken about her grief and how leaning in is significantly more difficult for single parents.



In her career as a technology executive, Sheryl has been integral in the growth of two of the world’s most popular websites, Facebook and Google. In addition to her proven track record in executive positions, Sheryl has dedicated much of her time and resources to advocating for workplace equality, especially in regards to women’s leadership. As Sheryl worked to grow Facebook’s revenues she also strived to develop its female employees, encouraging them to push themselves and their colleagues to create a more equal workplace. Sheryl’s actions did not go unnoticed, and she was invited to give a speech at the 2010 TEDWomen Conference. Titled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders,” the talk focused on why women make up 47% of the workforce but only 15% of executives are women. Her TEDTalk was immensely successful, becoming the second most viewed TEDWomen talk, and inspired Sheryl to expand her message.

In 2013, Sheryl published Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead, a book that focuses on the same issues as her TEDTalk while further developing her reasoning as well as sharing her own stories. Sheryl launched the book and a corresponding nonprofit, LeanIn.Org, an organization “committed to offering women the ongoing inspiration and support” to support professional women by offering 3 support areas: engaging women in an active and supportive online community; offering free online lectures on leadership and communication; and creating Lean In Circles, small groups that meet monthly to offer encouragement and support to each other (LeanIn.Org 2016). With over 2.25 million copies of Lean In sold, Sheryl’s message has resonated with readers across the world (Palmer 2015). There are currently 29,000 Lean In Circles in 147 countries, with 85% of members crediting their Circle with creating a positive change in their life (LeanIn.Org 2016).


Ties to Philanthropic Sector

Sheryl is the Founder of LeanIn.Org and donates all proceeds of Lean In to the organization. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Women for Women International, ONE, The Center for Global Development, and V-Day in addition to Facebook, SurveyMonkey, and the Walt Disney Company.

In early 2016, Sheryl donated 290,000 shares of her Facebook stock, then valued at roughly $31 million, with a majority going to LeanIn.Org (Wagner 2016). Sheryl signed The Giving Pledge in 2014, and will continue to donate large amounts of capital to organizations that are in line with her passions; chiefly women’s empowerment, education groups, and anti-poverty efforts (Wagner 2016).


Key Related Ideas

Advocacy: Advocacy is a process of using your own talents and personal reputation as a way to support messages and missions of other individuals and/or organizations. Advocacy is different than lobbying, which actively tries to persuade political leaders to adopt a certain view or position on a topic. Advocacy is a tool through which beliefs are shared in order to show what is important to a certain group of people or organizations.

Silicon Valley: Refers to the area south of San Francisco with a large number of technology companies. The region’s renown as a hub of technological innovation comes from its large number of venture capitalists, Fortune 1000 companies, and STEM research produced by universities such as Stanford.

Women’s Empowerment: The advancement of autonomy and self-reliance of women across the world. Women’s Empowerment has become an important topic in economics and international development (UN Women 2016).

Women and Philanthropy: Refers to the impact of women on the field of philanthropy. Recent research into gender and philanthropy has revealed that women give more than men: a Women’s Philanthropy Institute report in 2010 found that American households with a single female as the head give 57% more than those led by single males (Lodge 2014).


Important People Related to the Topic

Eric Schmidt (1955-): Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google and other companies owned by Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Eric hired Sheryl for her first position at a technology company in 2001. He is the founder of the Schmidt Family Foundation and Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund.  

Gloria Steinem (1934-): Gloria is a journalist who became nationally recognized as the spokesperson for the American feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s. Gloria is an outspoken advocate for Lean In and has worked with Sheryl on several women’s empowerment events, including speaking at the first Women@Google event organized by Sheryl and Marissa Mayer, the President and CEO of Yahoo! who at the time worked with Sheryl at Google.  

Larry Summers (1954-): Economist and President Emeritus at Harvard University. Larry served as Sheryl’s thesis advisor during her undergraduate career and hired her for her first job as a research assistant at the World Bank, later promoting her to Chief of Staff when he became Secretary of the Treasury.  

Serena Williams (1981-): Serena is a professional tennis player with four Olympic gold medals and was ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association as the best player in the world on six separate occasions. Sheryl and Serena met after Serena read Lean In and reached out to Sheryl to meet. After Sheryl’s husband passed away Serena’s friendship helped support Sheryl during her grief, with Serena often texting her encouraging messages.

Mark Zuckerberg (1984-): Mark is the Chairman, CEO, and President of Facebook. He hired Sheryl away from Google in 2008 and together grew the startup into the most popular social networking company in the world. In 2015 Mark and his wife Priscilla announced the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability corporation dedicated to advancing health and education through scientific research.  


Related Nonprofit Organizations

Center for Global Development is a think tank located in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to “reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for us all” (CGDEV 2016). CGDEV supports research in charitable aid effectiveness and innovation, climate change, global governance, health education, migration, financial access, and trade; then communicating their findings through online engagement, print publications, special events, and nongovernmental organization outreach to engage and inform.  URL:

LeanIn.Org was founded by Sheryl Sandberg in conjunction with the release of her book Lean In and is led by Rachel Thomas. LeanIn.Org is a nonprofit dedicated to women’s professional empowerment through “offering women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals” (LeanIn.Org 2016). In addition to their program offerings detailed in this paper, they also spearhead advocacy movements such as Ban Bossy and #LeanInTogether, campaigns to change the language used to describe women & girls and to encourage both men and women to work together to create equality in the workplace and at home, respectively. URL:

ONE is a nonpartisan organization advocating for the end of extreme poverty and disease around the world, and specifically in Africa. ONE is divided into two organizations: ONE Campaign, a 501(c)(3) through which (RED) and the Global Fund operate; and a 501(c)(4) called ONE Action, a lobbying arm that advocates for “smart, effective policies and programs which are saving lives, educating children, and helping those living in the world’s poorest countries lift themselves out of poverty” (ONE. 2016) URL:

TED is an arm of the Sapling Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 by Chris Anderson. TED is devoted to “spreading ideas…in the form of short, powerful talks” (TED 2016). The organization hosts several conferences a year and encourages independent organizations to hold their own, which are branded as TEDx and are separate from the official TED events. Sheryl’s TedTalk at a TEDWomen conference earned her national recognition for her views on women in the workplace and inspired her to write Lean In. URL:

V-Day is an advocacy organization advocating the end of violence against women and girls. V-Day has an eight-part mission, seeing themselves as a vision, a demand, a spirit, a catalyst, a process, a day, an organized response, and a “fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community” against violence against women. The organization has three arms: V-Day, the original advocacy organization; 1 Billion Rising, “the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history”; and City of Joy, a leadership community for women survivors of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (V-Day 2016). URL:

Women for Women International is a humanitarian organization founded in 1993 whose mission is to support and teach “the most marginalized women to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community, and connect to networks for support” (Women for Women International 2016). WFWI provides yearlong economic and social empowerment programs that focus on teaching women a skill and business skills so that they can effectively support their family and escape institutionalized poverty. WFWI focuses on supporting women in Afghanistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Sudan. URL: 


Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • Auletta, Ken. “A Woman’s Place.” The New Yorker, July 11& 18, 2011,
  • Dorschner, John. “Sheryl Sandberg: From North Miami Beach High to Facebook’s No. 2.” Miami Herald, February 2012,
  • Eisner, Jane. “Leaning In With Sheryl Sandberg.” March 6, 2013,
  • Kent, Muhtar. “Time 100 The List: Sheryl Sandberg.” Time, April 18, 2012,,28804,2111975_2111976_2112093,00.html
  • LeanIn.Org. About. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  • Lodge, Michelle. “Dispelling Myths About Women And Charitable Giving.” Fortune, October 20, 2014,
  • Luscombe, Belinda. “Confidence Woman.” Time, March 7, 2013,
  • Luscombe, Belinda. “Dave Goldberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s Love Story.” May 4, 2015,
  • Palmer, Gianna. “What impact has Lean In had on women?” BBC News, March 5 2015,
  • Sandberg, Sheryl and Nell Scovell. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
  • TED. Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  • Tsotsis, Alexia. “Facebook’s IPO: An End To All The Revenue Speculation.” TechCrunch, February 1, 2012,
  • UN Women. Women’s Empowerment Principles. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  • Wagner, Kurt. “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Donates $31 Million in Facebook Stock to Charity.” Recode, January 14, 2016,

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.