In the recent years there have been two great role models that appeared in media and inspired women to reach out and aim higher. I am talking of course about the shining stars of tech world and beyond: Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. Intelligent, beautiful, powerful – don’t hate them, unless you want to join Katherine Losse in hell that is. Bertrand Russell wrote in “The Fate of Thomas Paine”: “He had faults, like other men; but it was for his virtues that he was hated.” Years later, the words resonate with us more than ever, when describing two most powerful women in Silicon Valley.

Sandberg, the soft feminist as I decided to call this recent movement, is the author of “Lean In” and Facebook’s COO. Mayer is the reason Yahoo’s share holders smile in the morning, as singlehandedly she achieved what no other CEO of Yahoo could achieve for years: she brought the sexy back to a fossil of a company, together with credibility and profitability.

There is not much that hasn’t been said about them both. In the haters’ circles both are known as bad mothers. Mayer for choosing to work throughout her pregnancy, and taking only two weeks of maternity leave, during which she was still working. She didn’t get any “home made brownie points”, when she asked all employees working remotely to get their asses back to the office, put their heads down and help to bring the company to it’s former glory. She was totally misunderstood and had been made a poster boss who just doesn’t understand the “new realities” of work and life balance.

Sandberg is mostly hated by working class women, who are adamant she cannot relate to them in any way, because they haven’t got the luxury of taking a pay cut to pursue their dream career, or having a full time nanny and house help. She never claimed she can relate to everyone, but I believe if her book can change the career path of at least 1% off all the people who have read it, I am pretty sure it was worth it. I am purposely using word “people”, because although it was aimed mostly at women, after reading it I can honestly say there are many guys who will find it very eye opening. Not only to the struggles of women in the work force, but also to their own struggles.


Haters aside, both women have far more fans than enemies. And why wouldn’t you love them? They don’t pretend to be men, a trend amongst high profile women than until now prevailed in the business world. I myself experienced it whilst working in finance, when after being prompted by my boss, I dyed my blond hair dark, started wearing them tied back, swapped skirt for trousers and took out my earrings. Did it work? I am gutted to say: it did. My commission doubled and I was more in demand than ever. Is pretending to be someone else the solution to successful career? Certainly not.

There is now a story circulating in the tech world, that when Mark Zuckerberg reviewed Sandberg, he famously said she is too nice. Mayer comes across as a girl next door, who can do no harm. They have the positive and friendly aura around them, and it’s really hard not to be enchanted.

How did they get to where they are? What have they got in common?

1) Both of them have got great education. They didn’t just get a diplomas from the best universities, they finished with honours on top of their classes.

Sheryl Sandberg enrolled at Harvard College and graduated in 1991 summa cum laude  (with the highest honours) with an A.B. in economics and was awarded the John H. Williams Prize for the top graduating student in this field. In 1995 Sandberg has earned her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School (again with highest distinction).

Mayer MayerMayer was accepted to all ten colleges she applied to and graduated with honors from Stanford University with a B.S. in symbolic systems and an M.S. in computer science. For both degrees, she specialized in artificial intelligence. In 2009, the Illinois Institute of Technology granted Mayer an honoris causa doctorate degree in recognition of her work in the field of search.

2) Sports were an important part of their lives. Studies by the Women’s Sports Foundation have shown a strong connection between participation in sport and success in later life. One study found that 80% of Fortune 500 female executives played sports growing up.

Sandberg was an aerobic instructor back in the 1980s

Mayers has run the San Francisco half marathon, the Portland Marathon, and did Birkebeiner, North America’s longest cross country ski race. She’s also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Participation in ballet lessons from an early age resulted in Mayers dancing in “The Nutcracker” ballet while at Stanford.

3) Well chosen life partners. Looking at the life of both Sandberg and Mayers, it feels appropriate to paraphrase the old saying: “Behind every great woman there is a great man.” Both ladies had their fair share of trial and error, but managed to have found the amazing partners they are with today. It takes a strong man to be a good partner for women who go through life succeeding at everything. It has to be someone who can regularly challenge them, who is confident and grounded, ambitious, and being able to deal with the overwhelming success of their partners without jealousy. Fortunately both husbands are successful in their own field  and seem to be the perfect match for the superwomen.

Sheryl Sandberg married SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg in 2004, they have two children. David “leans in” by splitting parental chores 50/50.

Marissa Mayer married lawyer and investor Zachary Bogue Zachary Bogue, a co-managing partner at Data Collective, a VC which is behind some of the Valley’s biggest Big Data companies, and co-founder of Montara Capital, a prominent real estate investment company. They married in 2009 and have a son.

4) Close knit, traditional family. It’s interesting to note that even though both ladies combine work and home life effectively, their mothers, even though both qualified and ambitious, chose the path of home-makes after having kids. Both of them were also qualified teachers. Sandberg’s mother Adele gave up teaching to raise Sheryl and two siblings, while Mayer’s mother was an art teacher.

5) Commitment to getting job done. It can be said without a doubt that both Sandberg and Mayer are more than committed to their jobs and go above and beyond what is expected of them.  Sandberg admitted in her book that only recently she started leaving work on time, after being available around the clock for years. Mayer came back to work two weeks after giving birth to her first child, whilst being in constant contact with the company all this time even from the hospital bed.

6) Always eager to learn something new. Both are known for being eager to learn new things and choosing jobs with fast pace and scope for growth over safer and better paid options. Sandberg called this phenomenon “career jungle gym” and I believe it is a spot on descriptions when looking at their work choices over the years. None of them got stuck in one company trying to work their way up slowly in one field, rather tried different fields even when at the same company.

Sandberg  worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company and served as Chief of Staff to then United States Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers under President Bill Clinton before meeting Eric Schmidt. She joined Google Inc. in 2001 and served as its Vice President of Global Online Sales & Operations, from November 2001 to March 2008. She was responsible for online sales of Google’s advertising & publishing products and also for sales operations of Google’s consumer products & Google Book Search. In March 2008 Facebook announced hiring Sheryl Sandberg away from Google. Her job was to make Facebook profitable. According to the company, Sandberg oversees the firm’s business operations including sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy, communications and is on Facebook’s board of directors. She is also a best selling author and keynote speaker. Not bad for a “woman in tech.”

Mayer’s bio is equally impressive. She joined Google in 1999 as employee number 20 and was the company’s first female engineer. During her 13 years with the company, she was an engineer, designer, product manager and executive. Mayer held key roles in most Google products from Google Search to Google Maps and Gmail. She also oversaw the layout of Google’s well-known, unadorned search homepage. Prior to Google, she worked at UBS research lab in Zurich and SRI International in Menlo Park. In 2012, Mayer was appointed President and CEO of Yahoo!

7) Know your value. Both Sandberg and Mayer took their time before they committed themselves to work for companies that shot their career into the stratosphere.

Sandberg wasn’t afraid to negotiating her salary at Facebook and got everything she has asked for.

Mayer wasn’t as eager to join Google, as the company was for her to join the team so she didn’t immediately accept. Over spring break, she analysed the most successful choices she’d made in her life to see what they had in common. Decisions about where to go to college, what to major in, how to spend summers all seemed to revolve around the same two concerns: “One was, in each case, I’d chosen the scenario where I got to work with the smartest people I could find….And the other thing was I always did something that I was a little not ready to do. In each of those cases, I felt a little overwhelmed by the option. I’d gotten myself in a little over my head.”

8) Show me the money. The ladies have a magic touch when it comes to money.

Sandberg joined Facebook to help company make a profit. Before she joined, the company was “primarily interested in building a really cool site; profits, they assumed, would follow.” She managed to turn this around within two years and by 2010, Facebook became profitable.

Mayer became the CEO of Yahoo! when the company besieged by declining stock prices, layoffs and slowing ad revenue, was on the verge of becoming an enterprise joke. Tasked with course-correcting the company, Mayer brought the credibility and profit. During her first six months as a CEO, she managed to double the prices of Yahoo! stocks. Not bad, considering there were four other CEOs in the last five years trying to do exactly that.

Before we all get off the sofa and head over to the cupboard to pick up antidepressants, after reading such an extensive list of achievements, lets remind ourselves there are 7 billion people in the world, just over half of them women, so the percentage of those who end up being the role models, remarkable people, ideal employees and global inspiration is very marginal. Lets not beat ourselves up for not achieving corporate glory.

If you think your have missed your boat, but have a young, ambitious daughter, who would love to take their place, I hope the above comparison gives you an idea of the requirements she is up against. What does she need to accomplish to have a shot at this sort of jobs?

I am in deep admiration of both Sheryl and Marissa, because as much as both of them make it look easy, it certainly isn’t. If we think about any of the points I have compared above, they all came with tough choices and sacrifices. I am more than convinced, there were countless times when men were looking down at them, treating them like cute smiley dolls, until they realised that those ladies have IQ highly superior to their own. Sandberg gives an honest account of her feelings after her divorce from businessman Brian Kraff, after a short marriage. She felt like a failure, not realising that such a swift change of events was the best thing that could have possibly happen. It gave her an idea what she would not settle for, whilst not wasting a large part of her life. As a “swift divorcee” myself, I can relate to that. You come across as a confident woman who knows what she wants, but decisions like that make you question your judgement at times. I think there are way too many women trying to “fix” men these days, instead of improving their own well being  they are fighting a loosing battle.

Marissa Mayer is now praised for bringing the word “profit” to Yahoo!’s board meetings, but her decision to bring all the employees working remotely back to the office wasn’t initially welcomed with open mind. Was she thinking about it a lot before making it public? Probably. She doesn’t strike me as someone, who makes important decisions without thoroughly analysing the pros, cons and potential outcome. Being a woman, we have emotions running high. It’s perfectly natural. Even though she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, and doesn’t consider herself a spokesman for all women, that doesn’t mean she wants to be hated by all mothers and fathers who split their parental responsibilities and work evenly, by working from home. Being a human, we all want to be liked.

Those are just example of situations, that could be summed up in a paragraph, and forgotten, but those situations, those choices were amongst the hard moments that shaped both ex-Googlers to be the great leaders they are today.

Whether you want to change the world or just change your world, it’s worth looking at the similarities above and see which of those apply to you. It’s not going to guarantee you will take their place if they ever step down, but it will definitely help to have all those fields covered.