Most Powerful Women

Sheryl Sandberg's advice to Marc Benioff: Do more laundry

November 21, 2013: 10:28 AM ET

The Facebook COO and Lean In author offers frank advice to Salesforce.com's chief executive at its annual customer conference.

Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women conference earlier this year.

Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women conference earlier this year.

FORTUNE -- Facebook (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg has a lot of advice for women who want to advance in their careers. This week, she also took her Lean In message to Salesforce.com (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff and the throngs of conference-goers at the cloud computing company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Sandberg, one of the most powerful business leaders in Silicon Valley, didn't veer much from her usual leadership lingo. "Instead of telling little girls they're being bossy," she said, "tell them they have executive leadership skills." But she did have some specific advice for Benioff, who peppered her with questions for nearly an hour.

"If, as a CEO, you are willing to talk about this and address gender head on, it's a great competitive advantage," Sandberg told Benioff during their onstage conversation. She added that it is not illegal to talk to an employee about pregnancy, just illegal to discriminate against someone because they are pregnant.

Sandberg also told Benioff that in order to help promote a more equal working environment at Salesforce, he should dig deep into the organization to find female leaders and even give them some seemingly unfair advantages -- for example, invite a few to a meeting for top managers, even if they are lower down on the org chart.

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Why? According to Sandberg, it is a way to fight against the systematic bias against women in the workplace. Statistics show that women continue to lag men in promotions and wages. In order to level the playing field, corporate leaders like Benioff need to lead by example -- inviting more women to the table, for example, and calling out execs who complain that a woman is being too "aggressive" at work.

Sandberg also suggested that mentoring and sponsoring employees can play a big role in getting more women to the top. Because 64% of managers in the U.S. are "afraid to be alone in the room with a woman," Sandberg claimed, it is not always easy to find men who are willing to mentor women. (Not that a mentor has to be a man, of course.) "There is no mentoring that happens in a large group," Sandberg said. "You have to able to have alone conversations. We need to make it a badge of honor for the people in power, who are largely men, to mentor and sponsor young women. And it's a huge issue."

Despite the thousands of people before her in the audience, Sandberg didn't hesitate to raise a slightly more sensitive data point to back her claims: Men who do laundry are likely to have more sex than men who don't. "The data shows that when men are more active partners in their marriages, their wives are happier," she said. "Happier couples have more sex. So I've been telling men all over the country and the world: If you want to have more sex with your wives, don't buy flowers, do laundry."

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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