Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg addresses Tsinghua University’s graduates

Reporter's Notebook

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg addresses Tsinghua’s graduates

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg was the first female speaker to be invited as the guest speaker at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management graduation ceremony.

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother, wife, daughter.” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Each of us makes choices constantly between work and family and relaxing and making time for others and taking time for ourselves.” — Sheryl Sandberg

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small. By lacking self confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. we internalize ourselves – the messages that say its wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men…”

These quotes are from Sheryl Sanberg’s book Lean in: women work and the will to lead and they have resonated with me so strongly. So when I saw her speak at the Tsinghua Commencement Speech recently, I literally had tears in my eyes. I was heart broken by the slight trembles in her voice when she talked about her recently deceased husband, Dave. I felt hot blooded and passionate when she activated about women receiving equal opportunities in the work force. I felt proud of Tsinghua when Sheryl mentioned that she noticed that half of the graduate representative speeches were made by women. And I felt inspired when she spoke of her path from her graduation gown to where she is now.

Sandberg the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google and was involved in launching Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org. Before Google, Sandberg served as chief of staff for the United States Secretary of the Treasury and worked at McKinsey and Company as a consultant for three years. In 2012 she was named in the Time 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world according to Time magazine. She was also ranked #8 on Forbes’ most powerful woman list.

Here is a transcript of her remarks to the Tsinghua, School of Economics and Management graduates of 2015.

Transcript of Sheryl Sandberg’s speech
I am honored to be here today, to address dean Qian, the distinctive faculty of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, proud family members, supportive friends, most importantly the class of 2015. Unlike my boss, Mark Zuckerberg, I do not speak Chinese. For that I apologize. But he did ask me to pass along this message – zhuhe. I am thrilled to be here to congratulate this magnificent class on your graduation, and I ask you to give yourselves a round of applause.

When Dean Qian invited me to speak today, I thought, come talk to a group of people way younger and cooler than I am? I can do that. I do that every day at Facebook, since Mark is 15 years younger than I am and many of our employees are more his contemporaries than mine. I like being surrounded by young people, except when they say to me, “What was it like being at university without a mobile phone?” or worse, “Sheryl, can you come here? We need to see what old people think of this feature.”

I graduated from college in 1991 and business school in 1995. This was not that long ago. But I can tell you: the world has changed an awful lot in just 25 years. My business school class tried to have our school’s first online class. We had to pass out a list of screen names because it was unthinkable to put your real name on the internet. And it did not work because the system kept crashing – it just wasn’t possible for 90 people to communicate at once online.

But for a few brief moments in between crashes, we glimpsed the future – a future where technology would connect us to our colleagues, our relatives, our friends. The world we live in today is one I could not have imagined when I was sitting where you are. And 25 years from now, you will have helped shape your generation’s world.

As graduates of Tsinghua, you will be leaders not just in China, but globally. China is the leader of economic growth educational attainment. And it is not just political and business leaders that recognize China’s importance. American parents do as well,
In a San Francisco Bay area, where I live, the hardest schools to get your kids into are the ones that teach Chinese. But the fact is , countries don’t lead, people to lead. So as you graduate today, you start your paths towards leadership and you ask yourself, what kind of leader will you be. What impact will you have on others, what will be your mark on the world.

But the fact is countries don’t lead: People lead
As you graduate today, you start your path toward leadership. What kind of leader will you be? How much impact on others will you have? What will be your mark on the world?

At Facebook, we have posters on our walls to remind us to think big – to challenge ourselves to do more each and every day. There are important leadership lessons reflected in these posters – and today, I want to cover four of them that I think can be meaningful for you.


Facebook exists because Mark believed that the world would be a better place if people could use technology to connect as individuals. He believed it so much that he dropped out of Harvard College to pursue that mission and he fought to hold onto it over the years. What Mark did was not lucky. It was bold.

It’s unusual to find your passion as early as Mark. It took me far longer to figure out what I wanted to do. When I was sitting in a graduation robe, I could not have considered a job at Facebook because the internet did not exist – and Mark was only 11 years old. I thought I would only ever work for the government or a philanthropic organization because I believed these institutions made the world a better place while companies only worked towards profits. But when I was working at the US Treasury Department, I saw from afar how much impact technology companies were having on the world and I changed my mind. So when my government job ended, I decided to move to Silicon Valley.

In retrospect, this seems like a shrewd move. But in 2001, it was questionable at best. The tech bubble had burst. Large companies were doing massive layoffs and small companies were going out of business. I gave myself four months to find a job. It took almost a year. In one of my first interviews, a tech company CEO said to me, “I took this meeting as a favor to a friend but I would never hire someone like you – people from the government can’t work in technology.”

Eventually I persuaded someone to hire me, and fourteen years later, I still love working in tech. It was not my original plan but I got there — eventually.

I hope if you find yourself on one path but longing for something else, you find a way to get there. And if that isn’t right, try again. Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others. It’s a luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a clear path to happiness.


At Facebook, I knew that the most important determinant of my performance would be my relationship with Mark. When I joined, I asked Mark for a commitment that he would give me feedback every week so that anything that bothered him would be aired and discussed quickly. Mark not only said yes but immediately added that he wanted it to be reciprocal. For the first few years, we stuck to this routine and met every Friday afternoon to voice concerns big and small. As the years went by, sharing honest reactions became part of our relationship and we now do so in real time rather than waiting for the end of the week.

Getting feedback from your boss is one thing, but it’s every bit as important to get feedback from those who work for you. This is not an easy thing to do as employees are often eager to please those above them and don’t want to criticize or question their higher-ups.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from Wall Street. In 1990, Bob Rubin became the CEO of Goldman Sachs. At the end of his first week, he looked at Goldman’s books and noticed large investments in gold. He asked someone why . The answer? “That was you, sir.” “Me?” he replied. Apparently, the day before he had been walking around on the trading floor and he commented to someone that “gold looks interesting.” This got repeated as “Rubin likes gold” and someone spent hundreds of millions of dollars to please the new boss.

On a smaller scale, I have faced a similar challenge. When I joined Facebook, one of my tasks was to build the business side of the company — but without destroying the engineering-driven culture that made Facebook great. So one of the things I tried to do was discourage people from doing formal PowerPoint presentations for meetings with me. At first, I asked nicely. Everyone ignored me and kept doing their presentations. So about two years in, I said, “OK, I usually don’t like rules but I have a rule: no more PowerPoint in my meetings.”

About a month later I was about to address our global sales team, when someone said to me, “Before you get on that stage, you really should know everyone’s pretty upset about the no PowerPoint with clients thing.” I was shocked. I had never banned these presentations for clients! I just did not want them in meetings with me. How could we present to our clients without PowerPoint? So I got on the stage and said, “One, I meant no PowerPoint with me. And two, next time you hear a bad idea – like not doing proper client presentations – speak up. Even if you think it is what I have asked for, tell me I am wrong!”

A good leader recognizes that most employees won’t feel comfortable challenging authority, so it falls upon authority to solicit their feedback. I learned from my PowerPoint mistake, so now I ask my colleagues “What can I do better?” And I always thank the person who has the guts to answer me honestly, often by praising them publicly, to show that I am grateful for their feedback. I firmly believe that you lead best when you walk side-by-side with your colleagues. When you don’t just talk but you also listen.


When I started my career, I observed people in leadership roles and thought, “They’re so lucky. They have so much control.” So imagine my surprise when I took a course in business school on leadership and was told that as you get more senior, you are more dependent on other people. At the time, I thought my professors were wrong.

They were right. I am dependent on my sales team…not the other way around. If they fall short, it is my mistake. As a leader, my performance is not just what I can do, but what everyone on my team does.

Companies in every country operate in ways that are right for their cultures. But I believe that there are some principles of leadership that are universal — and one of those is that it is better to inspire than to direct. Yes, people will do what their bosses tell them to do in most organizations. But great leaders do not just want to secure compliance. They want to elicit genuine enthusiasm, complete trust, and real dedication. They don’t just win the minds of their teams, they win their hearts. If the people that work for you believe in your organization’s mission and they believe in you, they will not only do their daily tasks well, but they will do them with true passion.

No one won more hearts than my beloved husband Dave Goldberg who passed away suddenly two months ago. Dave was a truly inspiring leader. He was kind. He was generous. He was thoughtful. He raised the level of performance of everyone around him. He did it as CEO of SurveyMonkey, an amazing company that he helped build. He did it for me and for our children.

A friend of ours named Bill Gurley, a leading venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, wrote a post where he urged others to “Be Like Dave.” Bill wrote, “Dave showed us all exactly what being a great human being looks like… But it was never frustrating because Dave’s greatness was not competitive or threatening, it was gentle, inspirational, and egoless. He was the quintessential standard for the notion of leading by example.”

Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei has said “leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.“ Like Dave, you can do this for not just yourselves, but for other people.

Fourth, LEAN IN.

As the Chinese proverb holds – “women hold up half the sky.” This is quoted all over the world and women have a special role in China’s history and presence. Was wonderful to see that half of your speakers were women.

When the world has gathered to discuss the status and advancement of women, they’ve done it here in Beijing. In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – which called for women’s full and equal participation in life and decision-making and it was adopted by 189 governments. Last year, on the 20th anniversary of that historic declaration, leaders again gathered here to mobilize around what has become known as the promise of Beijing: equality for women and men.

Yet while we all acknowledge the importance of women, when we look at leadership roles in every country, women hold very few roles in leadership roles, overwhelming held by men. In almost every country in the world – including the United States and China – less than 6% of the top companies are run by women. Women hold fewer leadership roles in every industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that affect all us, women’s voices are not heard equally.

There are many reasons for the gender leadership gap – outright discrimination, greater responsibilities at home, a lack of flexibility in the workplace, and importantly, our stereotypical expectations. While cultures differ all over the globe, but our stereotypes of men and women don’t differ very much at all. Although the status of women is changing and evolving in China and many parts of the world, traditional expectations and stereotypes linger. To this day, in the US, in China, and everywhere, men are expected to lead, be assertive, succeed. Women are expected to share, be communal, and acquiesce to others. We expect leadership from boys and men. But when a little girl leads, we call her “bossy” in English, or qiang shi (强势) in Chinese.

Other social barriers also hold women back. Women are often excluded from professional networks—like Guanxi–and both formal and informal socializing that helps for job advancement. This is also true in the United States, where men often chose to mentor other men instead of women.

I believe that the world would be a better place when men ran half our homes and women ran half our organizations and companies – and the good news is that we can change the stereotypes and get to real equality. We can support women who lead in the workforce. We can support men to find more balance in the home by fathers helping mothers with housekeeping and childrearing; more equal marriages are happier and more active fathers raise more successful children. We can walk up to someone who calls a little girl “bossy,” and say instead, “That little girl is not bossy. That little girl has executive leadership skills.”

And I want to make this very clear— equality is not just good for women. It’s good for everyone. Female participation in the workforce is a major driver of economic growth. Companies that recognize the full talents of the entire population outperform those that do not. AliBaba CEO Jack Ma, who stood here last year, has said that “one of the secret sauces for Alibaba’s success is that we have a lot of women… without women, there would be no Alibaba.” Women hold 40 percent of all jobs at Alibaba and 35 percent of senior positions – unrivalled anywhere anywhere else in the world.

Great leaders don’t just develop people like them, they develop everyone. If you want to be a great leader, you will develop the women – as well as the men – at your companies and on your teams.

Our peers can help us develop, too. When Lean In was published in 2013, we launched LeanIn.org, a nonprofit with a mission to empower all women to achieve their ambitions. LeanIn.Org helps form Lean In Circles, small peer groups who met regularly to share and learn together. There are now over 23,000 circles in more than 100 countries.

The first international Lean In Circle I ever met with was here, in Beijing — a group of young professional women who are working to their professional ambitions and challenge the idea of “shengnu,” leftover women. In the past 2 years, they have built a network of Circles throughout China from working professionals to university students – women and men who come together to support equality. One of these Circles is at Tsinghua, and I met with them earlier this morning. I was inspired by their passion for their studies and their careers. As one member told me, “it was when I first joined Lean In Tsinghua that I began to fully understand the Chinese proverb, A just cause enjoys abundant support.”

I believe your generation will do a better job than mine at fixing the problem of gender inequality. So I turn to you. You are the promise for a truly equal world.

Today is the day of celebration, a day to celebrate your accomplishments. The hard work that s brought you to this moment. Today is about gratitude. A day to thank the people who have helped you to get here, the people who nurtured you, taught you, cheered you on and dried your tears. Today is a day the day for reflection, a day to think about what kind of leader you will be. I believe that you are future of not just China, but the world. And so for each of you, I wish you four things on this day:
1. Be bold and have good fortunate, fortune favours the bold
2. You give and receive the feedback you need, feedback is a gift
3. You empower everyone, nothing is someone else’s problem
4. You support gender equality, lean in.

Congratulations to all of you.