Tuesday 17 September 2019

Dearbhail McDonald: 'Facebook's Sandberg appeals for support for women in the workplace as she leads way during Irish visit'

Jill Downey, Core; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook; and Fiona Field, Mediaworks, at the Lean In event in Dublin
Jill Downey, Core; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook; and Fiona Field, Mediaworks, at the Lean In event in Dublin
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

When she first launched Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg faced an instant backlash.

Many threw the book (often without reading the New York Times bestseller) at Sandberg, one of a handful of US female billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.6bn. Michelle Obama delivered a stunning riposte to Sandberg's advice to women to assert themselves and "lean in" to their ambitions.

"That whole, 'So you can have it all.' Nope, not at the same time. 'That's a lie," said Obama last December. "And it's not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn't work all the time."

Last week Sandberg flew into Ireland, just in time for the opening of Facebook's unprecedented Supreme Court appeal aimed at halting a referral to the European Court of Justice (CJEU). Judgment has been reserved in that case which could prove critical, once again, for EU-US data transfers. Sandberg was in Dublin to announce an extra 1,000 Facebook jobs in Ireland this year and unveil details of a €1m investment with the Anti-Bullying Centre in DCU to enhance online safety.

The mother of two, whose husband Dave Goldberg died in 2015, also took time out to have a fireside chat with hundreds of Irish devotees of her Lean In non-profit which has 41,000 circles worldwide - including an impressive 184 circles across the island of Ireland.

At a standing room only event hosted by Core Media at its glitzy 1 Windmill Lane HQ, Sandberg launched a robust defence of her Lean In philosophy.

She appealed to the handful of men in the room, including Patrick Coveney, Greencore CEO - and chairman of Core - to support women in the workforce because it's the smart, not just the right thing to do.

Sandberg, the corporate 'superhuman', showed a remarkably human side discussing her late husband's death and the broader issue of dealing with people experiencing illness and death, at one stage fighting back tears. "Too often, we ignore the elephants in the room," said Sandberg who separately - and deftly - deflected a question about "recent criticisms" of Facebook. The criticisms, of course, include Sandberg and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg presiding over a non-stop series of data and hate speech scandals that have eroded trust in the social media giant and raised fears its platform is being deployed to manipulate elections.

Has the backlash against Sandberg been greater because she is a female leader? I'm not so sure.

Such are the scale of controversies that have engulfed Facebook, it's Sandberg's reputation as the 'adult in the room' that is more of a target than her gender.

Sandberg told her audience not to get discouraged, show up every day and take responsibility for our mistakes. Bemoaning the fact that women still don't have a place where they can be "unambiguously and unapologetically ambitious," Sandberg invited us to imagine a world where 50pc of countries are run by women and 50pc of homes are run by men.

Now there's a concept I can lean into.


Domhnal’s lesson from arduous South Pole trek — his wife was right after all

THE corporate world is replete with extreme feats of derring-do.

There are any amount of executives undertaking gruelling athletic challenges, ironman events, ultra-marathons and suchlike. And many a sports star has converted their lessons in leadership on the field back onto the balance books, including their own.

Business of sport events are two a penny, but one Irish executive who won’t be blazing that speaking gig trail is Domhnal Slattery, chief executive of Dublin-based aircraft leasing giant Avolon.

Last week, Slattery pulled no punches when asked at the Airfinance Journal conference in Dublin whether a recent arduous trek he took to the South Pole had taught him anything new about leadership.

“No. I don’t think it does teach you anything about leadership,” he said flatly of the adventure when interviewed at the event. “It was a personal journey, it wasn’t an Avolon thing, it wasn’t for charity,” said Slattery. “It’s described in the brochure when you sign up for it as ‘extremely strenuous’. I think they understated [it].”

The trips are advertised as costing about $64,000 (€56,000) per participant.

Slattery regaled a rapt audience with tales of how he had to cross-country ski the last 120km or so to the South Pole.

“It’s a physical and mental thing,” he explained. “The mental aspect of it is really interesting, because we spent 10 hours a day on these skis. You’re not talking to anybody, you’re on these marches and you’re inside your own head.

“There’s no GSM, internet or wifi, so it’s an amazing opportunity to clear your head of clutter and noise. But the brain goes from exuberance and elation at one point in the day to deep depression at the other and all kinds of very interesting things,” he added.

Slattery told his audience his trek to the South Pole was a great personal challenge, although one he was unlikely to want to do again. And he revealed he could have avoided the strains of the adventure — had he taken some leadership advice closer to home.

“My wife said it was a mid-life crisis and I disagreed with her a year before I went,” he recalled. “I fundamentally agree with her now.”


Speaking of formidable ladies, word reaches me that Margot Slattery, Country President of Sodexo Ireland, has been promoted to Country President of Sodexo Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The expansion of Slattery’s brief into the wee North comes on the back of the growth of Sodexo’s business portfolio. Slattery takes up the new role on March 1, a critical time as the island of Ireland braces for Brexit. Slattery will be supported in her new undertaking by Julie Ennis, formerly of Bank of Ireland, who takes over next week as MD of Sodexo’s corporate services business.

Sunday Indo Business

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