Power Players

Sheryl Sandberg says she couldn’t focus on philanthropy at Meta: 'It's not a job that you can do and also do other things'

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Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg speaks during a press conference in London in January, 2020.
Dominic Lipinski - Pa Images | Pa Images | Getty Images

When Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook in 2008, she knew she was committing to more than your typical 9-to-5 job.

But the departing Meta COO says she didn't realize the "24/7" job would last 14 years. CNBC's Julia Boorstin recently caught up with Sandberg, who said she initially only expected to stay at Facebook for five years – and that her commitment to the company left little time for philanthropic projects or other personal interests.

"It's a job that I love, but it's 24/7," Sandberg, 52, said, shortly after she announced she was stepping down as COO in a Facebook post yesterday. "It's not a job that you can do and also do other things."

Going forward, Sandberg said, she plans "to focus on philanthropy" and "[carving] out more space to do more for women," rather than finding another corporate role. "I don't need to tell you how much it's important to focus on helping women now," she told Boorstin, who has worked on CNBC's Closing the Gap coverage of women's advancement in the workplace.

In her Facebook post, Sandberg wrote that she first joined the company specifically to set an example for young women, noting that she had two young children at the time and was unsure if it was "the right time for a new and demanding role."

"The messages were everywhere that women – and I – could not be both a leader and a good mother, but I wanted to give it a try," she wrote. "My hope was to ... help more women believe they can and should lead."  

In 2013, Sandberg launched Lean In, an initiative that helps companies support women and employees with marginalized identities. The organization shares a name with "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," a book Sandberg co-wrote that same year. It's unclear if Sandberg take on a larger goal within that organization or chart new paths.

Sandberg said she'll remain on Meta's board for at least the initial future, with Meta chief growth officer Javier Olivan becoming the company's next COO.

Her departure follows speculation of a growing schism within Meta between her and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The 2021 book "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination," written by New York Times technology reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, referenced accounts from Meta employees who noted tension between the two leaders following a series of political scandals involving Facebook.

Those scandals included allegations that Facebook helped swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica affair – in which a political consulting firm working for Trump hijacked personal data from Facebook users – and ex-Facebook product manager Frances Haugen's testimony to Congress last year that Facebook's algorithms prioritized traffic over user safety.

At the time, a Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the book's characterization of Zuckerberg and Sandberg's relationship was false. Sandberg and Zuckerberg have also recently praised each another in public venues. Sandberg told Boorstin that even though she's stepping down from Zuckerberg's company, she wants to "[make] sure people know how much I believe in Meta. That's why I'm staying on the board and helping with the transition."

Shortly after Sandberg announced her departure, Zuckerberg published his own Facebook post, calling their 14-year partnership "deeper than just business."

"Sheryl architected our ads business, hired great people, forged our management culture, and taught me how to run a company," he wrote. "It's unusual for a business partnership like ours to last so long. I think ours did because Sheryl is such an amazing person, leader, partner, and friend."

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