This morning Eric Jackson wrote an article on Forbes comparing Kim Polese to Sheryl Sandberg in an effort to give Sandberg some advice of his own: “Tone down the public appearances for a while and just keep your head down” (now redacted from the article).
In 1997, Polese was listed as one of Time’s 25 most influential people in America. He begs, “What were they thinking?”. Polese sold her company for twice the capital it raised, served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Kleiner and later became CEO of another company. Most startups fail, returning nothing to their investors or employees. Polese performed far above average at a time when most companies crashed and burned.
He then goes on to compare Polese to Sandberg saying they both like to appear on magazine covers, do public speeches about being a woman dealing with power and are admired by young women. Participating in this, he argues, is “taking your eye off the ball” as Sandberg will ultimately be judged by her business accomplishments.
What Jackson fails to mention is that it is not the press surrounding Sandberg that got her where she is today. She attended Harvard, was a research assistant at the World Bank, worked as a management consultant at McKinsey, served as Chief of Staff to then United States Secretary of the Treasury and was Google’s Vice President of Global Online Sales & Operations. More than these titles, however, she led the Treasury’s work on forgiving debt in the developing world during the Asian financial crisis, was responsible for online sales of Google’s advertising & publishing products and also for sales operations of Google’s consumer products. All of this was before leading the operations of a $100 Billion dollar company to its IPO.
How does Jackson boil down her accomplishments? “She’s a great speaker and she seems to do a fantastic job at being Facebook’s COO. Her husband’s super-smart to boot” (now redacted from the article).
She did not make it to the top because of her public speeches or her husband, but from her hard work. To suggest that she should “keep her head down” is patronizing and gendered in its connotation. It is ludicrous to claim that landing a smart husband is somehow equivalent to successfully running one of the most valuable companies of our time.
If Jackson were a true friend of Sandberg’s as he seemingly hopes to be, he would praise her for being an example to women everywhere. In a world where women represent a small portion of the technology industry and are facing alleged sexual harassment and discrimination, we need a Sheryl Sandberg to remind us of why this type of article should never stop us.