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Full transcript: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg onstage at Lesbians Who Tech

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg onstage with Kara Swisher at the Code conference Asa Mathat

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks with Kara onstage at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco, Calif. The two cover Russian election-meddling on Facebook’s platform, diversity, the challenges of changing the broader culture and more.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as someone who thinks Robert Mueller should investigate how the Russians are trying to catch Rocky and Bullwinkle, but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or just visit for more.

Today we’re gonna play an interview I conducted at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco. I talked to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about tech backlash, the #MeToo movement and how Facebook is dealing with Russian meddling. Let’s take a listen.

Sheryl Sandberg: Thank you.

Thank you, guys. Sheryl, I’m so glad I finally got you here after begging you for years. But I do want to apologize just at the start, last year at Lesbians Who Tech, you weren’t here, I noticed. I interviewed Megan, who you work with at Google, and we were trying to decide who was the top lesbian in tech, ’cause it had to be one of us, either Megan or I, obviously. And then I said, “Actually, it’s Sheryl Sandberg with a drink in her.”

“Three drinks.” I think it was three drinks.

I think you are the top lesbian in tech.

So, I’m super excited to be here because what you do, just to take a serious moment, is so important because we need more diversity in tech. We need more women in tech. And the fact that you all are here, gathering together and committed, is absolutely huge. I actually ... I mean, we all love Kara. Kara has been outspoken in every way possible. She holds companies like ours to task. She is a champion of this conference and this community. So we all admire her deeply, but I come bearing a little bit of bad news.

All right, let me hear.

I’m not sure she’s like, the greatest lesbian. Here’s why. Here’s why. I’m gonna tell a true story. You saw those nice pictures of us together. So Kara’s interviewed me many times, and the last time was about a year ago.


And I didn’t do it well, so I was wearing a dress. And when you’re wearing a dress and they try to mic you in the back, you know, the guy doesn’t know how to do it, put it on your bra. So Kara, who’s a kind friend, volunteered to help the, in this case, clueless man. I’m not saying all men are clueless. I’m saying in this case, clueless man.


And she was supposed to, you know, put the mic so that it hooked on my bra. Fell right down the dress. She couldn’t find it. (laughs)

We’re gonna get to the actual ...

I’m just saying.

You’re just saying.

I’m just saying.

I just wanna say, in my defense, Viola Davis thought I was adorable.

(laughs) No one said you weren’t adorable.

Well, just saying, things happen. And that dress was ridiculously tight, okay? It was like one of your smoke show dresses.

I’m just saying. I’m just reporting the facts to an interested audience.

Okay. Now that we’ve got that straight. I know you’re trying to lighten up the crowd so they’ll like you, but what I really wanna do here is ... I’m gonna go to serious now. When we were talking about this discussion, we wanna talk a lot about diversity issues, and for this crowd especially, but I would be remiss if I did not bring up how much trouble Facebook has been in over the last year. So let’s talk serious.

I am a good lesbian, I just wanna start with that point. Well, you wouldn’t know, so there you go. Maybe someday, probably not. Meg Whitman is much more attractive than you. No, I’m kidding. (laughs) No, she’s not. She’s totally not. She’s totally not.

Anyway, in any case, I wanna talk about Facebook and Russia. And it gets to the broader backdrop of Silicon Valley. This has been a very bad year for Silicon Valley, and Facebook, Twitter, Google have all been in the cross hairs related to the election and what happened. And you and I have talked about it a lot. I’ve talked to a lot of your executives about it. And just recently, last weekend I get into a fight with another one of your executives on Twitter about where the blame lies, where the efforts are going. Can you give a statement about what’s going on now and what you guys are doing and how you’re gonna fix this problem?

Things happened in the last election on our platform that were unacceptable that we not prepared for, and we are taking that responsibility really seriously. There’s nothing more important to us than the ability for people to express themselves freely, and that means we have to let them express themselves authentically. And people have to be who they are. Authentic identity has always been a hallmark of Facebook, and that did not happen here, so we have been careful and very thorough to find everything we can and report it to the public and cooperate with the Mueller investigation and with Congress.

And we’re taking really strong steps. We’re investing heavily in both people and technology to make sure we can prevent these problems. We’re a company of 20,000 people, we announced that we had 10,000 people working on this, we had 14, we’re gonna go up to 20 by the end of the year. And we’re investing so much in AI and machine learning that we announced it’s going to hit our profitability. We’re working very closely with election commissions all around the world.

We know this is a new form of very old problem, and you and I have talked about this. People have tried to undermine our democracy and our values and have tried to use any platform available to do so, and so we take this incredibly seriously. We’re working hard. We’re definitely playing catch-up, and we acknowledge that, but we are working hard to get ahead and stay ahead for the future.

Do you imagine you built a platform where it’s impossible not to abuse it, or malevolent actors not to use it? Because it’s not just ... People in the past have tried to upset elections, but this is weaponized. They weaponized your platform, Twitter’s platform, Google, YouTube. At Google I talked to Susan Wojcicki about this, the CEO. Are these platforms inherently problematic that you cannot ... Unless you really start to make choices and value choices of what goes on your platform, or is it something you all think you can solve?

Any technology that’s ever been invented has been used for good and bad, and there will always be bad people and they’ve tried to use everything from TV to radio to our platforms, and so that gets to our responsibility for the content on our platform and what we’re gonna do. So we’re being very clear and had very strict community standards all along on authentic identity, which this completely violated, on hate, on bullying, on terrorism, and we work hard and vigilantly to find things and get them down, and continue to evolve. And as people try to do the wrong thing on our platform, we just have a responsibility to work that much harder to prevent it.

So for the 2018 election, do you feel you’re ready to have this not occur again? Because after Parkland it wasn’t as much on ... It was on Facebook, it was on all the platforms.

So when we think about elections ... Look, anytime anyone does any kind of abuse on our platform, or any other, we’re paying attention. We try to learn and prevent that abuse going forward, as well as anticipate the next forms. Certainly after the 2016 election and the things we didn’t anticipate, we took many more proactive steps in France, in Germany, in the election that happened here in Alabama, and we’re working hard with election commissions all over the world.

We’re gonna take a quick break now for a word from our sponsors, we’ll be back in a minute with Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg.


The mood around people in Silicon Valley, from the rest of country, I think right now ... And I think it’s mostly the social media companies, I would say YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, less so Apple and others, is they hate us. They really hate us kind of thing, not to borrow from Sally Field, but there’s a real sense that tech is hurting this country, whether it’s addiction, whether it’s bullying, whether it’s the abuse of these platforms. You think Silicon Valley can grow? And then we’re gonna talk about diversity, because that’s one of the big issues.

Well, I think we have to understand what’s happening, and I think there are two major things that underlie this. One is that there is a real fear of and feeling of economic insecurity, that technology has taken some people with it and either left other people behind or people are afraid they will be left behind, and that creates a very legitimate fear. The second is that, as the tech companies have gotten big, and so big, we have a really deep responsibility and that responsibility grows as we grow. And so we need to address both sides of that, and that’s what we’re doing.

On the responsibility side, we take responsibility for the content on Facebook. False news, people want accurate information and we wanna give it to them, so we’ve taken a number of steps there, that you know about, on content, terrorism, bullying, on getting the content down on elections and, importantly, on well being. We launched a change just this year around meaningful social interactions because if you look at people’s time on Facebook, the time when they’re engaged, when they’re sharing, communicating, commenting, that has psychological well-being. It’s very positive.

Well, some of it.

And some of the other times it’s less positive. Some of it is less positive, but we made a change, which has to really do with more of the social sharing that the researchers believe is more positive and do less of the other, which is less positive. So we’re taking those steps.

We also have to take steps on the economic situation facing people, and that’s something we take really seriously. There are 70 million small businesses around the world that are using Facebook. 57 percent of them will say that they’re hiring, more than half of hiring happens, and interestingly in this country alone there are 1.4 million small businesses run and started by LGBTQ entrepreneurs that are contributing 1.7 trillion dollars to our economy.


And I met ... There’s a woman who started in Seattle, Cupcake Royale, and she did it ... Right. Okay, you know about it. So she did it after she came out and every year during Pride Month, she donates a dollar for every cupcake she makes to the It Gets Better Project. And we are doing community boosts around the country to make sure that we’re investing in digital skills.

I get that, but some of the things that are coming ... And you and I argue about this shiny, happy future that you think, and I think it’s maybe not so happy and shiny. But when you come in with automation, robotics, can Silicon Valley ... And then I want to get right into diversity, I do wanna talk a lot about diversity, and #MeToo because I think it’s something we really need to focus in on.

Do you think Silicon Valley has gotten the message? Have you gotten the message that maybe this sort of generalized optimism is probably something that people are a bit more serious about some of the issues facing our country?

We are serious about the issues facing our country. So let’s go back to jobs really quickly, because the economic insecurity is what is a lot of what you’re talking about. So most growth in the United States and around the world, more than half comes from small businesses, and the small businesses that use Facebook, they’re not tech businesses. They are powered by tech, but they are the barber, the baker, Cupcake Royale, and so we need to help address that. And we think one of the most important ways we can do that — and we take it very seriously — is working with small businesses, as well as digital skill training.

I was in Detroit a while ago visiting one of our local partners. We will have trained, by the end of the year, 2.5 million small businesses and people around the world on digital skills, because we have a responsibility to make sure that technology doesn’t just benefit some, but benefits all. And that’s where this audience, I think, really comes in.

Do you think that people legitimately ... When you see the attacks on tech, do you think they have some legitimate feelings that you all haven’t been paying attention to your audience really? Or not, maybe not.

I mean, we’ve all gotten criticized, both our companies and personally, I’m sure everyone in this audience has felt that, too. And there’s parts that are legitimate, but what really matters is you figure out what your values are, what your responsibilities are, and we’re doing all we can to do that.

Okay, we’re gonna move to #MeToo and diversity. Obviously, Lean In was a big cultural ... What do you call it? What do you think? People noticed. When you did that, do you think about the things you got wrong in Lean In and how it relates to #MeToo? Talk a little bit about how you feel about what’s happened in the past year with some real prices these horrible men have paid for their behaviors.

I published Lean In almost five years ago, and Kara, thank you, because you encouraged me and I needed that encouragement to put that out in the world. And there’s lots of things I got wrong. I’ve talked a lot about how in the ensuing years I lost Dave and I don’t think I wrote enough about what it was to be a single mother because I don’t think I fully understood it. I’m not sure I fully understand it now, but boy do I understand it differently.

#MeToo is so important. I mean, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment that women face, we all know, but now everyone knows, and now the question is now, what now? And this I think is so important and I’ve been doing a lot of work on it with my foundation, which is that we need a world where women don’t get sexually harassed. Full stop. Period.


Yes. Yes. But this is important, that’s not enough. Not enough. We need a world where women — and women of color particularly — get equal opportunity. It is not enough to not harass us. That’s good. Necessary, but not sufficient. And I’ve been worried about what I perceive of as the potential unintended consequences.

So a few weeks ago my foundation, Lean In, with SurveyMonkey, we did a survey and here’s what we found. Almost half, almost half of male managers in the U.S. today are afraid to do a common work activity with a woman, like have a meeting, have a meeting. Senior men are three-and-a-half times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior woman than a junior man, five times more likely to hesitate to travel with a junior woman than a junior man and that is a problem.

Because I remember when I published Lean In five years ago, one of the most common responses I got from senior men was, you’re right, I take the man out for drink, not the woman. I spend time with the man, not the woman. And that is the informal and formal mentoring time that women are not getting. And so everyone needs to behave appropriately all the time but access needs to be equal. I believe people should be able to interact, including interact one on one in a work environment and nothing bad should happen. But if you’re not comfortable having dinner with women, do not have dinner with men.

Right. Okay.

We need to be explicit about this because I think this is quietly and insidiously happening, and we know one of the reasons men have gotten promoted over women ...

Social issues.

It’s not that they’re more talented. It’s that ... Applaud. I was once on a stage talking about Lean In and I really got catcalled, booed, it was really hard, and so I finally said, “Okay, let’s be clear, men are getting like 94 percent of the top jobs, so either you believe that men are 94 percent more talented or something else is going on. I’m going with something else is going on.” And the catcalls stopped.

So when ...

But this is part of what’s going on is that informal time, and we have to make sure we don’t backslide.

Has #MeToo made it worse? Because a lot of the backlash now is really disturbing. It’s more like what you’re talking about, not going out to dinner, it’s sort of the Mike Pence-ing it. I have to Mike Pence it, because Mother wouldn’t like it.


How do you solve for that, because right now with #MeToo it seems like many of the good men are like, “I don’t know what to say now so I’m not gonna say anything. I don’t know what to do now, so I don’t wanna do anything.” Do you believe they’ve gotten to the heart of the real problem of sexual harassment? Because now you’re moving ... I think they’ve gotten a lot of the real bad offenders, but Harvey Weinstein is up in, you know, he’s rapey. He just is. He’s awful. He should be in prison, really. But then there’s what happens down here, which is the more minor aggressions. Not minor, but that ...

And what happens outside of corporate America, right? Think about the people who are still — and people are working on this — but people who work in homes, people who work in the hospitality industry, the stories about women — and I’ve spoken to some of the union heads about this — women who are in housekeeping and hospitality and hotels. It is pervasive and awful and we need to make sure this moment of #MeToo affects, you’re right, all levels of sexual harassment, but also people wherever they work. And there are environments like working in other people’s homes where there’s even less protection, and so we need to make sure this moment extends to everyone.

But how do you do that? Because it feels like the backlash is strong.

We need policy change. It’s not good ... It’s fantastic that women have spoken out and how brave they were and I applaud all of them. I actually just did a [Facebook] Live with Tarana Burke. I just met her on Wednesday. She started this over 10 years ago. Think about the slog in which she’s been through to get us here and I think we’re all so grateful to her. Speaking out against people who do this is important, but again, necessary but not sufficient. We need policies.

Facebook, we published our sexual harassment policies publicly, not because they’re perfect, not because they’re not gonna continue to evolve, but because we believe that we need a more open dialogue about this. We were also asked by a lot of small businesses, we don’t have the resources to develop policies every year so we thought we’d share, and that would show the thing. And we’d love other people to share as well because this needs to change at the policy level. At the policy level at companies you need clear practices, things need to be dealt with quickly, things need to be dealt with fairly, action needs to be taken, there needs to be no retaliation.

We’re gonna take another break for a word from our sponsors. We’ll return to my conversation with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg after this.


All right, so when you’re talking about that happening, when you think of diversity in general, Facebook’s diversity numbers, not great, Google’s ... All of them are the same. This is group of lesbians who tech, because that’s the name of the organization, apparently.

Thank you for that.

Any time. I just want to make it clear for you.

The logo is everywhere.

I know.

You can’t not know that.

Why is that, Sheryl? We only have a few more minutes, but what do you do? Here you are at the top of an organization. Now it shouldn’t necessarily be you that does it, you have been more active. What is wrong with tech that it continues to do this?

So we know that more diverse organizations get better results, and we want a more diverse organization because we build a product that serves the world and if we have more diverse voices and more diverse people building that product, it’s gonna be better.

We have in some ways a unique problem, which is a historical problem against women who go into technical and predominantly male fields. In the 1980s, women were 35 percent of computer science majors. Today it’s 17 or 18 percent. That’s a problem, and why I’m so glad to be at this conference because this isn’t just about the people in this organization, it’s about getting more people in.

I remember just a ... Well, I guess it’s not just a few years ago. There’s an iD Tech camp, which is like a good tech summer camp a lot of parents in Silicon Valley send their kids to, and I sent my daughter and my niece and her friend, and they were three of the five girls in a class of like 20, and they were like 7. And I thought to myself, “Wait a second, we’re already starting in the wrong place.” And so we’re working hard on this.

It’s also not just a pipeline issue, it’s an attitude issue. I mean look at the Google suit that just ... Pipeline’s always the excuse. Pipeline. Pipeline. Pipeline.

No, but it’s culture. I’ll give you an example that happened, too, at iD Tech Camp. So my niece went, and there was a game, you’re supposed to make a game, and she might have been 7. And the only kind of games they knew were like driving and aggressive games and she said she wanted to make a word game, so she went to the counselor person, who was a kid from college, and he looked at her and said, “No one’s ever asked me that before, I have no idea.” So she went home that night and said, “Aunt Sheryl, I don’t wanna go back.” I was like, “Go one more day, try it.” To that guy’s credit, he came in the next day looking kinda tired and said, “I stayed up, I know how to make a word game.” And she made her word game.

But that’s the problem. And so it’s cultural. And the good news is, when it’s cultural it means we can change it. Lesbians tech, girls tech, women of color tech, black girls code, computer science and engineering Lean In circles, the way to change culture is to ... The way to get more women into tech is to get more women into tech. Because for every young girl out there who sees this audience and hears from here, they now can’t see this as an only-male field.

Do you think that removes the overarching ... I mean the Google, you probably read it ... But those kind of things happen at all these companies. Obviously, Uber was the quintessence of all of that. I don’t know if you can change their attitudes. I feel like some days you can’t.

Yeah, I mean look, sometimes we take a step forward. Sometimes it feels like when we take a step forward, the world takes a step back and that’s hard, but culture does change and culture has to change. It has to.

And here’s why: We know that the data’s on our side, and now hopefully momentum’s on our side. More diverse teams have better results. Relationships, if you’re straight, and they’re more even, are stronger and happier. Fathers of children who are more involved do better. They do better psychologically, they do better emotionally, they do better professionally and in school. So I’m sure with every movement, with ever movement towards equality, there are the inspiring moments and there are the moments when it feels impossible, but we have no choice but to change the culture.

Kind of arguing that lesbians raise all children, which I think is right.

Can I say a word on that?


So gay couples share chores more evenly.

Of course.

So I’m not saying there’s a choice, but if there were a choice, as a woman, you’re much better off with a woman because in straight couples women are doing 30 to 40 percent more housework and childcare.


And if we want to know part of what’s holding women back in the workplace, that’s a big chunk of it, too. Because women have two jobs and men have one.

I’m just getting started.

I know that. We can sit here all day. I interviewed you onstage and I asked you about Trump. It’s hard when you’re talking about policy changes and attitude changes, we have a president who really doesn’t believe these things. And you said at the time, in a very Sheryl Sandberg way, we’ll have to wait and see, it’s the beginning of the administration.

I didn’t say all that.

You did. It was a wait and see. I have the quote, I’ll send it to you. I’m 100 percent correct. How do you feel now? Because now Amazon’s gotta think about whether they’re gonna go to Atlanta or take Atlanta off the list because of the NRA thing. You’ve got issues around immigration, transgender, you all have to wade into this now because of the polarization. It’s not just a polarization, it’s a tax on these things that had been moving forward. Do you think — I don’t want to use the word “lean in” because you must hear it all the time — but do you think tech companies need to ... Wait and see is enough. How do you feel about the Trump administration now?

I wanted Hillary elected very badly. That was true then and it’s certainly true now. I think it’s more important than ever that we speak out on the things that matter to us. I’m proud of what Facebook has done. In 2014, we launched 50 types of gender identity you could put on Facebook and a field where anyone could fill in whatever they wanted.

There’s 53 now, but go ahead.

Well, there’s an endless amount because there is a field and that’s very important in this and we know ... I’m very proud of our community within Facebook, you’ve been a big supporter. I know you’re speaking at our conference next week and we appreciate that. We have a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Group that rates on companies and their treatment of LGBTQ employees. We cover gender confirmation surgery and all the ancillary things. We tell anyone to use any bathroom they want.

We speak out and we speak out often, and I think in the face of any administration we have a high responsibility. And so what am I doing? I’m speaking out. I speak out on women. I’ve spoken out on immigration. I’ve spoken out on the transgender ban. I’ve spoken out on gun control. Mark’s done the same on the issues he cares about. We work all over the world and there are issues all over the world, and we all need to keep fighting for what we believe. We also need to keep setting the right example. I can’t say again how important it is for young girls to see women and women of all types and backgrounds and colors and identity and sexual orientation who code, because tech matters and you guys matter.

All right, on that note, Sheryl Sandberg.

So nice.

I know, aren’t they nice?

Thank you, guys.

Thank you. Thanks again to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg for talking with me at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech summit. You can learn more about the summit at

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