Last night at the Dreamforce conference, Sheryl Sandberg may as well have been a guest on Oprah.
In her onstage interview with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, the Facebook COO spoke almost exclusively about her best-selling book Lean In, and empowering women at the workplace. Sandberg’s anecdotes and teaching moments for men were greeted with raucous applause by the huge crowd that had come to see her speak at the Moscone Center.
Sandberg was an engaging and eloquent speaker (in sharp contrast to her boss at Facebook) and used several live demonstrations to illustrate the difficulties for women at the workplace. “How many men here were called bossy as children?” asked Sandberg, with almost no hands going up in response. She then posed the same question to the women in the audience, and immediately several hundred hands went up. “When little girls are aggressive, or assertive, they are told they’re being too bossy, something we never tell little boys,” she said. “You should go up to parents and tell them, ‘Your little girl isn’t bossy, she has exceptional leadership skills.”
Sandberg said the biggest need in the business world was for women to have more male mentors, without the fear of things looking inappropriate. She stressed the need for more open dialogue between the sexes, less regulation and awkwardness about tackling gender issues.
Benioff played the part of a typical male CEO who was asking Sandberg for advice on how to introduce more women into executive roles within his organization. Not to be left out of the audience adulation, Benioff talked about his own executive team that had once complained about a female manager saying she was too aggressive. “I told them, I’m thrilled that she’s aggressive, I wish there were others more like her!” said Benioff, prompting a round of applause.
In contrast to Benioff’s conversation with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer the night before, Sandberg’s talk had very little to do with her actual job as COO of Facebook. She spoke more as a self help guru for both men and women, with tips that extended outside the business world. The conversation even took a risqué turn when Sandberg talked about how she unwittingly boosted laundry detergent sales in the country through her book, which tells men “if you want to have more sex with your wife, don’t buy flowers, do laundry!” Benioff was left momentarily speechless as Sandberg laughed and quipped, “This is proven stuff!’
As the talk came to a close, Benioff admitted that he had prepared several questions on Facebook, but didn’t ask them because he felt it was more important for the audience to leave thinking about the issues they had just discussed on stage, and take action to address inequality at the workplace.