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Sheryl Sandberg’s departure from Meta marks the end of an era for Facebook and working women

June 2, 2022, 1:24 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The jury reaches a verdict in the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp defamation trial, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to crack down on SPACs, and Sheryl Sandberg’s 14 years at Facebook had lasting influence on the world and on working women. Have a great Thursday.

– Status update. One thing’s for certain: it’s the end of an era.

Sheryl Sandberg announced yesterday afternoon that she will step down from her role as Meta’s chief operating officer this fall. Sandberg has been Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s No. 2 at the company since 2008, turning the social media platform into the behemoth with international influence it is today. Joining the pre-IPO startup from her role as a VP of online sales at Google, Sandberg, now 52, developed the business model that made Facebook not just a popular platform but a powerful force around the world.

In recent years, however, Sandberg’s place at the social media giant has been less sure. She shouldered much of the blame for Facebook’s scandals surrounding disinformation, user data, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and reporting by the New York Times found that her relationship with Zuckerberg became less close than it once was. Metrics like employee headcount reporting to each senior executive, as examined by the Wall Street Journal, implied that Sandberg’s role at Meta had been diminished. In her announcement (posted on Facebook, of course), Sandberg seemed to counter that narrative. “Sitting by Mark’s side for these 14 years has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime,” she wrote.

Over her 14-year tenure at Facebook, Sandberg didn’t just build the company’s business model—she redefined what it meant to be a working woman in corporate America. Like it or not, the idea of “leaning in” became part of our culture after the 2013 publication of Sandberg’s memoir-cum-manifesto. While Sandberg’s original advice to women garnered criticism over the years for taking an individualistic rather than systemic approach to solving the problems that hold women back in their careers—and for failing to account for the experiences of women of color and less privileged women—it has had lasting influence.

Sheyl Sandberg will step down as COO of Meta this fall, 14 years after she joined Facebook.
Dominic Lipinski—PA Images/Getty Images

As she leaves Meta, Sandberg said she plans to focus more on her philanthropic work, which she said “is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.” (Her philanthropic endeavors include LeanIn.Org and OptionB.org, which are part of the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation. Sandberg will also stay on Meta’s board of directors.) In an interview with Fortune editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell and senior writer Phil Wahba yesterday afternoon, Sandberg emphasized that this “moment for women” led her to make the decision to depart, which she said she reached last weekend. “It’s just not a job that leaves room for a lot of other stuff in your life,” Sandberg told Shontell and Wahba. “This is a really important moment for me to be able to do more.” A spokesperson for the executive later said that the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade is part of the “important moment for women” that Sandberg described.

But Sandberg’s work as a voice for women at work hasn’t been unmarked by scandal either. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the executive allegedly used her position at Facebook to compel British tabloid the Daily Mail not to publish an article alleging that her then-boyfriend Bobby Kotick, CEO of the troubled Activision Blizzard, had a restraining order filed against him by an ex-girlfriend. A spokesperson for Meta disputed the allegation and said yesterday that it did not impact the timing of Sandberg’s departure. But the situation is hard to forget as Sandberg reprioritizes her thought leadership on behalf of women in her working life.

Regardless, the obvious question for Sandberg is: What comes next? The easy headline is that she’s leaning out—and Sandberg told Shontell and Wahba that she’s not looking for a CEO job. But if we know anything about Sandberg, it’s that she’s ambitious. A turn to politics, perhaps? For now, Sandberg is embracing the uncertain—as she did when she joined a startup led by a 20-something college dropout. “It is time for me to write the next chapter of my life. I am not entirely sure what the future will bring,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “I have learned no one ever is.”

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Defamation verdict. Just before the news of Sandberg's departure broke, another major news story came to a conclusion. The jury reached a verdict in Johnny Depp's defamation suit against Amber Heard, finding that Heard's essay in which she wrote, "I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change," was defamatory. The jury also found that Depp, through lawyers, defamed Heard. An initial judgment found that Heard owed $15 million in damages, while Depp owed $2 million. Vice

- Culture clash. EY announced in February that Kelly Grier, head of EY’s U.S. outfit, is stepping down from the Big Four accounting firm on June 30. New reporting finds that a contributing factor is fallout with EY Global CEO Carmine Di Sibio. The two reportedly disagreed on the influence the U.S. firm would have on EY’s international operations, and how much the firm should pay to fund EY Global. Both executives declined to comment, and the firm said Grier's decision to leave was "her choice." Financial Times

- Outdated regulations. In an op-ed for Fortune, Tinder CEO Renate Nyborg shared that the dating app and parent company Match Group sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week urging the agency to revise its blood donation policy. Currently, men who have sex with men are barred from donating blood in the U.S. due to a 1985 ban alleging that queer men have a higher risk of donating HIV-positive blood. That is despite the fact that today, all blood that’s collected in the U.S. is tested for HIV. Match Group is urging the FDA to prioritize a study that's key to revising donation eligibility. Fortune

- Sick of SPACs. Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to crack down on special purpose acquisition companies. The senator's office issued a report, which found that a proliferation of bad deals led to significant losses for investors. Warren introduced the SPAC Accountability Act of 2022 in May, which aims to increase legal liability for the parties involved in SPAC deals, required investor disclosures, and the length of the lock-up period when early investors redeem or sell their shares. Reuters

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Cambria Allen Ratzlaff joins JUST Capital as managing director and head of investor strategies. Enboarder appointed Andrea Dumont as chief marketing officer. Infused cannabis product company Vertosa has appointed McCormick EVP strategy, custom flavor solutions Manon Daoust to its board of directors. Former Accenture Song executive creative director Eva Neveau was appointed global chief creative officer of eg+ Worldwide, Omnicom’s global content and production arm.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Secret to success? Victoria’s Secret, just 10 months out from its split from L Brands, announced its revenue declined 4.5% in its earnings call on Tuesday, a better outcome than the 5.2% originally expected. The retailer reported that bra and beauty sales were up as COVID restrictions lifted, but loungewear sales declined from lockdown highs. However, some challenges lie ahead for the retailer as it woos investors, including a swelling inventory and success of its inclusive sizing rollout. Wall Street Journal

- Necessary funding. Abortion and reproductive health care services startup Choix has raised $1 million in venture capital funding. The startup currently serves patients in California, Colorado, and Illinois seeking abortion services. Patients are connected with a doctor over telehealth within 24 hours of filling out a form and pay $289 to receive mifepristone, a pill that induces an abortion, by mail. Cindy Adams, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and CEO of Choix, says the startup has seen considerable interest from investors following a leaked Supreme Court draft indicating the turnover of Roe v Wade and will seek an additional $500,000 to $1 million in the coming months. Bloomberg

- Spending power. A new Wells Fargo report has found a high growth potential for LGBTQ spending power. Twenty-seven percent of people who identify as LGBTQ have earned a bachelor's degree, and 21% more have earned a post-graduate degree, often correlating with higher incomes. However, employment discrimination is still high for LGBTQ+ individuals. While the average gay or lesbian individual earned an average of $84,9000 in 2020 (about $4,000 more than straight heads of households), bisexual households only earned $61,000. Wells Fargo    

- Pressure to hide. Sixty percent of women of color in the U.K. feel pressured to hide their identities in order to fit in at their workplace, according to a new survey from the Fawcett Society. Over three-quarters of women of color reported experiencing some form of racism at work, and over a quarter were subjected to racist slurs. Over half also reported discrimination in the application or interview process, and 42% were passed over for promotions. The report's authors ask the U.K. government to publish ethnicity pay gap data for companies with 50 or more employees and for employers to implement anti-racism plans, including disclosing salaries on job listings. Guardian

ON MY RADAR

Abortion used to be no big deal. A few angry men made it one Slate

Gynecology has a pain problem The Cut

Sam Asghari on proposing to Britney Spears, their miscarriage, and looking to the future GQ

Dr. Jane Goodall dares you to think globally Elle

PARTING WORDS

"I know I look different to others, but to me I’m just starting to look like myself. It’s indescribable—there I am. And thank God. Here I am."

Actor Elliot Page on his transition after coming out in December 2020.

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