Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg was in China this week, promoting her book “Lean In” by speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing.
But she wasn’t just there to talk about women and workplace equity and sell more copies of her book, released in China earlier this year. The Facebook chief operating officer also met with officials at China’s State Council Information Office to discuss Facebook’s role as a “platform for Chinese enterprises to expand (in) overseas markets,” according to a translation of a report on the information office website.
The irony, of course, is that Facebook itself is banned in China, which bars its vast population from making friends on the world’s largest social network, just as it blocks them from watching videos on YouTube or visiting hundreds of other overseas websites.
Sandberg didn’t address the issue of Chinese censorship during her public remarks, according to news accounts. (Nor would she speak with reporters.) But according to an account from Bloomberg news, Sandberg told her audience that China can play a big role in improving opportunities and equality for women and men at work and at home:
“I believe the time is right for change,” said Sandberg … ”I believe that China can lead. It is not just the sheer size of the country or your population. It’s not just your unbelievable economic growth that is the envy of the world. It’s that this society has very deep, deep roots. Parents invest in children. This is a country that understands that change needs to happen to make things better for the next generation.”
Meanwhile, Sandberg’s private meetings were most likely aimed at pitching Chinese officials on the power of Facebook advertising to promote Chinese businesses around the world, according to Wall Street Journal blogger Paul Mozur.
While it’s unlikely that Chinese authorities will change their minds about allowing their own citizens to use sites like Facebook or Google, Mozur noted that Google also makes money from advertising that helps Chinese companies promote their ambitions to grow abroad.
(Photo of Sandberg and State Council Information Office director Cai Zhao by Guo Research Photography)