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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg challenged a room full of Wall Street guys to be better mentors for women

Sandberg is worried about how #MeToo could hold women back.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has a challenge for the powerful men on Wall Street: Be better mentors for women.

Sandberg and Facebook CFO Dave Wehner were interviewed Wednesday at Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, and much of the 40-minute conversation sounded like your typical Facebook earnings call.

As the livestreamed interview was ending, though, Sandberg asked to take the last few minutes to “answer a question you didn’t ask.”

She mentioned the #MeToo movement, and how women speaking out against inappropriate sexual behavior by male colleagues and superiors is a good start to fixing the problem — as long as male executives don’t respond by avoiding female colleagues altogether.

“I’ve been very worried about what I perceive as the possible negative impact or backlash on this,” Sandberg told the audience, saying she was, “looking out at a lot of very important men who run big companies and big firms and you guys can make a big difference.”

Sandberg cited research that her organization, Lean In, recently collected that found men were less likely to take meetings or travel with junior female colleagues following the #MeToo movement for fear of being alone with them.

This isn’t going to work, Sandberg added, before hitting the key part of her message.

“Make sure in your firms, access is equal,” she continued. “If you or the people you work for or the senior men in the companies you invest in don’t feel comfortable having dinner with women, then they shouldn’t have dinner with men. If they don’t feel comfortable doing work travel with women — because that is very important informal time where you get the kind of time with your boss that gets you promoted — then they shouldn’t travel with men or they should travel in groups.”

“What we need is an equal share of time and attention that gets women into the roles that they need,” she continued. “If you want the very best returns from your own firms and the ones you invest in, take this moment and help all of us lead by example.”

It was a notable plea, in part, because it came from Sandberg, one of Silicon Valley’s top executives, who is also an outspoken proponent of moving the tech industry forward on issues of gender equality.

But it was also notable because it came during a banking conference where her message would be heard by a lot of powerful male executives. It wasn’t just a message posted to her Facebook followers — Sandberg has already done that — it was a messaged delivered directly to the many men in the room.

“Go back, be loud and clear, especially if you are a man, that you are committed to mentoring women now more than ever,” she said at the end of her plea. “It will make a huge difference.”

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