Facebook COO Sandberg on making it to the top

December 8, 2010, 11:06 PM UTC

by Patricia Sellers

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote one of the most-read Guest Posts ever on Postcards. “Don’t Leave Before You Leave” ranks second in popularity to a post written by my 93-year-old Uncle Walter Stoiber, “The Great Depression, as I remember.”

Yesterday at TEDWomen, a gathering in Washington, D.C., Sandberg expounded on the theme of her Guest Post: helping women understand what they need to do to reach the top. This is a mission that’s become one of her top priorities — up there with spreading Facebook way beyond its more than 500 million users worldwide.

The 41-year-old Sandberg, who started her corporate climb at Google and now serves on the Starbucks and Disney boards, clearly stands out from the crowd. (She’s No. 16 and rising on Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women list). Here’s the gist of what she told us yesterday about what women need to do to ascend:

1. Sit at the table. “Women systematically underestimate themselves,” Sandberg said, noting that men typically attribute their success to themselves while a woman says, “So-and-s0 helped me.” Part of the problem: For women, success and likability are negatively correlated, while the correlation is positive for men. Women get hung up on that.

2. Make your partner a real partner. Sandberg cited research that shows that in households where both the man and the women work, she does twice as much housework and takes on three times as much childcare as he does. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if it weren’t this way? Households with equal earning power and shared responsibility for kids and chore typically have half the divorce rate, Sandberg said. We’ve progressed further in the workplace than at home, she contends.

3. Don’t leave before you leave. Young women don’t look for the promotion — resisting chasing the big job — because they plan to have a family — often, dream about a family years down the road. “Leaning back,” as Sandberg calls this approach, can kill a promising career. All the more power to working moms. (Sandberg and her husband have two preschoolers.) “If you stop looking for opportunity, you’re going to be bored,” she said. “Once you have a child at home, your job needs to be challenging.”

Sandberg’s parting message in her 12-minute talk: “My generation is not going to change the numbers at the top,” she said, predicting that she’ll never see women and men sharing power 50-50 in the upper echelons of the corporate world. That’s the duty for the next generation.