Sheryl Sandberg addresses a World Economic Forum session. Picture: REUTERS
Sheryl Sandberg addresses a World Economic Forum session. Picture: REUTERS

Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said no one should have to go to work fearing sexual harassment, and one way to eliminate that fear is for companies to have a zero-tolerance policy for such behaviour.

"I think it's great when people lose their jobs when it happens, because I think that is what will get people to not do it in the future," Sandberg said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "And I think this is a leadership challenge. As a leader of a company, there needs to be no tolerance for it."

Sandberg, one of the technology industry's highest-profile female executives, spoke out as Silicon Valley grapples with an increasing number of harassment scandals - leading to the firings of venture capitalists and executives at Uber and other companies.

"It's abominable that it still exists in this day and age," Sandberg said - though she added that it didn't mean the companies involved were beyond saving.

Uber, which has come under fire for a culture that some say fails to punish discrimination and harassment, is currently searching for a new CEO after its board ousted co-founder Travis Kalanick. While Sandberg doesn't want the top job at the ride-hailing company, she has advice for whoever takes it.

Changing culture

"People respond to what's tolerated and what's encouraged," she said. "And I think a great leader can change the culture of I think almost any company in almost any situation. You put in new policies, you have new procedures, your language is different; I'm always optimistic."

Sandberg, who built up Facebook's advertising business, is also known as an advocate for women in the workplace after writing her bestselling 2013 book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.Uber has been searching for someone like Sandberg, who can bring the company out of its "bro" culture while building an influential and successful business.

Sandberg spoke before a controversy over women in tech emerged at Google, her former employer. A software engineer posted a memo that decried the search giant's efforts to diversify its workforce, saying biological differences between men and women are partially responsible for the dearth of women in tech roles.

The memo set off a heated debate within and outside the company that led Google to fire the author.


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