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Unless a country realises the full potential of women, it cannot realise its full potential: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

Thursday, 3 July 2014 - 9:15pm IST Updated: Thursday, 3 July 2014 - 8:15pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: New Delhi

  • sheryl-sandberg Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, on Thursday, called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi with whom she had a “fruitful meeting”, telling him that India was an important country for Facebook with India accounting for $100 million users. 

“Being an avid user of social media myself, I talked about ways through which a platform such as Facebook can be used for governance and better interaction between the people and governments. I also talked about how Facebook can be used to bring more tourists to India,” said PM Modi in a release.

“We intend to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary year with a special focus on cleanliness and I spoke to Ms Sandberg on how Facebook can assist us in this endeavour.”

Sandberg is in India on a five-day visit, brought by FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO), in partnership with Random House India, the publishers of her book 'Lean In: Women, Work, And the Will to Lead'. 

On Wednesday, Sandberg spoke to a gathering of businesswomen, journalists and policy-makers, stressing on the need to do away with gendered norms at the workplace that posed as uneasy disadvantages for women. 

Speaking to an eager audience made up mostly of women, most of whom seemed to lap up what she had to offer in her disarming speech on how to succeed despite your gender, Sandberg said that unless a country realises the full potential of its women, it cannot realise its full potential. “Gender inequality is everywhere, not just in India. India is marginally better with 28% companies employing women in their key posts. In America, 23% companies have women at top positions,” she said. 

Sandberg went on to congratulate two women who helmed affairs at Facebook India -- Kirthiga Reddy, head of India operations, and Akhi Das, public policy head in India. Revealing that there are currently more than 100 million Facebook users in India, Sandberg said that Facebook was looking at making significant investments in India. However, she did not reveal a specific amount. 

While speaking about the book, she revealed how she has formed ‘lean in’ circles, made up of women to support each other, in about 18,072 cities around the world, adding that there were two in Gurgaon.

Sandberg is one of the most successful executives in the world. In the past, she has worked with the World Bank, and served as chief of staff for the US Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton.

She began her speech by recounting her tenure in Delhi and in Madhya Pradesh under the World Bank for a Leprosy project in 1991. “India has grown so much in the past two decades. There were 3 million leprosy cases then, there are barely 1,00,000 now,” she said. 

On being asked, how organisations and policy-makers can make changes to help women at the workplace, she said that most busines organisations sought to not talk about gender, and that it is only when gender is brought on the table at any discussion, will gender inequality be done away with. 

Sandberg’s address on gender inequality comes at a time when, another Silicon Valley networking site, Tinder, is in the throes of a controversy with a sexual harassment suit slapped against its chief executive and chief marketing officer, Justin Mateen, bring back the debate of the skewed gender ratio at the Valley.

A former colleague of Mateen, on Monday, alleged that he had sent her “a barrage of horrendously sexist, racist and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages.” 

Even though Sandberg chose to keep mum about the Tinder controversy, she somewhat chose to tackle her own company’s wrong-footing on the use of sensitive user information to carry out undisclosed experiments. “It was simply bad communication. These tests were part of ongoing experiments to test new products. We take the privacy and security of our users very seriously,” she said.   ​ 

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