Sisterhood Blog

Advice for the '$1.6 Billion Woman'

By Elana Sztokman

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Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is about to become a very rich woman — and I’m really happy about it. The world needs more rich women, especially women who understand the importance of empowering other women.

The New York Times called Sandberg the “$1.6 billion woman,” based on the anticipated public offering of Facebook, where Sandberg is COO.

Sandberg, who has been a strong, vocal advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace, is actually one of the few women on top in Facebook. Tellingly, there are no women on the Facebook board, and Sandberg is the highest ranking woman in the company — number four from the top. Of the 10 most senior positions in the company, only three are held by women.

Certainly Sandberg has a reputation for promoting women’s successes at work — helping working mothers to find creative schedules and day care, encouraging women to be powerful and assertive, building a culture in which women’s real, complicated lives and concerns are welcomed rather than dismissed as signs of women’s lack of professionalism. But when it comes to women’s equality all the way to the top, the Facebook record remains mixed.

Just in case Sandberg was wondering what to do with all that money, I thought I would offer some of my own advice. Although I don’t have much experience working for a company like Facebook, I do have quite a bit of experience in the not-for-profit sector, having spent the better part of the past two decades working with women’s organizations in Israel — that is, the kind that, unlike Facebook, never have enough money. These are the kinds in which women with great vision, dynamic energy, and creative ideas for improving society spend disproportionate amounts of time and energy on fundraising rather than programming.

I would even venture to say that the single biggest obstacle to the advancement of women in society in general is that there are not enough women funders to back the women visionaries. As Shifra Bronznick, of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, recently said at a special Knesset committee meeting on the status of women in American Jewish communal life, men are making more money than women from the beginning of their careers and onward, which means that they have more money for things that are important to them — including philanthropy. The gender wage gap impacts women’s ability to support the amazing work of not-for-profit. Men support men, and men have more money. It’s a vicious cycle for women’s advancement.

I’ll give you one example that I discovered when researching an article on abortion in Israel that my colleague L Ariella Zeller and I wrote in the recent issue of Lilith. Israel has two leading organizations that deal with the issue of abortion.

One, Efrat, is an anti-abortion organization that has radio and newspaper ads running constantly, offering to help women who are “unsure” about what to do with their pregnancies. The organization literally pays women not to have an abortion, and gives out fliers that they call “informational” that show pictures of unborn fetuses. Tellingly, the organization is a male-instigated and male-dominated organization, with women occupying the roles of social worker and volunteers in the field while men on top do policy, strategy and of course fundraising — to the tune of $4 million a year. Of that, some $300,000 is for advertising alone. (All this is in the public record, by the way, collected by Guidestar Israel.)

By contrast, Shilo, which provides a range of reproductive health services, including abortion, is run by all women. The budget of Israel’s Planned Parenthood equivilent? $150,000 per year. The Shilo budget is less than half of the advertising budget of Efrat. That’s why pregnant women are more likely to land in the anti-abortion offices of Efrat than in the family planning center of Shilo.

I can think of at least half a dozen women’s organizations in Israel that operate on annual budgets of less than $300,000. Imagine what those organizations could do if they had secured funding of, say, $400,000 or even $500,000 for, say, five years. Imagine what they could accomplish if they could just breathe for a few years knowing that they had enough money to do what they need to do in the field, and to pay their staff — mostly women — actual decent salaries. Imagine if all those social workers, program coordinators, lobbyists, educators, writers, and administrators were able to feel secure and stable in their work and with their salaries. Imagine the great work they would be able — and motivated — to do.

So this is what I would like you to do, Sheryl Sandberg: I would like you to choose 10 small women’s organizations and give them each $500,000 for five years. That’s $5 million a year. That is 0.3% of your soon-to-be net worth. It’s an amount that you will be able to give without even feeling it, without it impeding any of your other plans, and I’m sure you’ve got lots of them. The impact of this kind of women’s focused philanthropy is a way for you to really change women’s lives, as givers and receivers, from all social sectors and strata. It’s empowerment from the ground up.


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