Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, author of the bestselling 2013 book Lean In and an icon amongst working women, perplexed her nearly two million Facebook followers when she failed to say anything about the women’s marches that took place across the country on Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration of US president Donald Trump. The marches formed one of the largest demonstrations in US history. Speaking with journalist Kara Swisher at the Watermark Conference for Women in San Jose, Calif., today, Sandberg said that failing to comment on them was a mistake:
It’s taken some time for Silicon Valley to find its voice under the new Trump administration. Leaders who are typically outspoken about their ability to change the world have been slow to voice their protest to Trump’s policies. Sandberg’s reaction to recent events was also delayed, but the sharp wording of her responses, when they came, is notable.
Towards the end of January, the Facebook COO was one of the few tech leaders to voice her opposition to Trump’s executive order reinstating a policy that restricts funds to NGOs that provide abortion services. “Women’s rights are human rights,” the Facebook COO wrote on Jan. 26, “and there is no more basic right than health care.”
Yesterday, she delivered a passionate response to Trump’s immigration orders, and their potential impact on women. “The Executive Orders issued over the past week defy the heart and values that define the best of our nation,” she wrote. “This harsher immigration climate is particularly unforgiving for women.” Her position contrasted with that of other powerful women in Silicon Valley: IBM CEO and Trump advisor Ginni Rometty issued only a muted response to Trump’s immigration order, which temporarily banned refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, while Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has yet to comment. (The tech community overall rebounded from weeks of silence with an outpouring of opposition this weekend.)
Sandberg has also defended her interactions with Trump and his advisors so far, including her decision to attend a December tech summit with his team, where she reportedly brought up STEM education for women and minorities. “This administration is going to have broad ability to take action on things we care about,” Sandberg told Swisher. “A dialogue there is important.”
Her willingness to leverage her unique role as a powerful woman in Silicon Valley is critical right now. Despite research showing the many benefits of hiring and promoting women (financial and otherwise), Silicon Valley’s “bro” culture remains largely intact—and it appears keen to keep the status quo. Sandberg is an outlier. Her voice and leadership opposing Trump’s policies might be the rallying call Silicon Valley needs.