Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, advocated for universal family and bereavement leave Tuesday in an appearance at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee.
[caption id="attachment_320639" align="alignright" width="426"] Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg talks with Wisconsin author Jane Hamilton in an appearance Tuesday at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. - Kat Schleicher Photography[/caption]
In a conversation with Wisconsin author Jane Hamilton, Sandberg discussed her new book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” co-authored with Adam Grant, which details her journey through grief after the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015.
This is Sandberg’s second book, after her 2013 bestseller “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” captured the attention of women across the world. That book examined why there aren’t more women in leadership and called on them to reach their full potential.
In her Milwaukee appearance, Sandberg described the isolation she felt in her grief, even after she returned to the workplace. Colleagues didn’t have the same banter with her as before.
“I think people were so afraid of saying the wrong thing to me, they didn’t say anything at all,” Sandberg said, noting people might have been worried about reminding her of Goldberg’s death. “You can’t remind me Dave died. Trust me, I’m on it.
“When we don’t acknowledge, we pile isolation and silence on top of grief and loss.”
Sandberg is known for her self-confidence and her admonition to other women to believe in themselves. But after her husband died, she faltered.
“You had a crisis of confidence—what does that mean for the rest of us?” Hamilton asked, as the audience laughed.
But the experience helped Sandberg realize Facebook should provide more support in the workplace for those experiencing difficulties—whether it’s being treated for cancer, a family member’s illness, or another traumatic experience.
“We need to help people rebuild their self-confidence,” she said. “Sometimes in a crisis, work is better than home. Because at home, I was waiting for him to walk in that door and at work that didn’t happen.”
Sandberg advised audience members whose co-workers or friends go through a crisis like hers to gently tell the person they are there and available to talk. And not to ask if there’s “anything” they can do, but to do something for the person without being asked.
“You do not have to be someone’s best friend from the first grade to show up,” she said.
Sandberg pointed out that while she has had many resources and a support network to help her through her experience, many women living in poverty or who have less flexible jobs are at a disadvantage, which is why she is now using her influence to lobby for family and bereavement leave.
“These families deserve our support, much more than we give them,” Sandberg said.
She also comforted those grieving, assuring them “it gets better” and sharing her rabbi’s advice, “lean into the suck,” acknowledging that these feelings are to be expected and working through them. One thing that’s helped her, Sandberg said, is being grateful for what she does have and writing down three moments of joy each day.
“This is brutal. And the days will come when you don’t want to get out of bed. Finding people who have had similar experiences is almost always helpful,” Sandberg said.