Confidence Woman

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is on a mission to change the balance of power. Why she just might pull it off

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Peter Bohler for TIME

Strategy meeting Sandberg with team members

How She Does It

Among the myths that circle around Sandberg is that she leaves the office at 5:30 p.m. Actually, that is true. But after putting in some time with her family, she returns to work with a vengeance. She’s one of those work-hard, play-hardly-ever types. She usually goes to parties only to work the room or if she’s holding a gathering of women at her home. She and her husband Dave Goldberg try never to schedule dinners on the same night. If that does happen, she often calls on her sister. “She lives a mile away, and the answer is always yes,” Sandberg says.

On their first outing, years before they started dating, Sandberg fell asleep on Goldberg’s shoulder during a movie. “I was smitten, but I found out later she does this to everyone,” he says. Her favorite film is 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. The last time she picked a movie for a group of friends, she chose Fame. As punishment, the group made her sit through the whole film. And not sleep.

In many ways her domestic life is very traditional. The family plays a lot of games; Zuckerberg recently taught them the Settlers of Catan. Her kids already get their own breakfasts and make their own school lunches (with help). Sandberg says studies that show working moms of today are as engaged with their kids as traditional moms of yore “make me feel so good, so much better.” She declines to answer questions about her domestic help, saying it’s not a question you would ask a man, then declines my offer to ask Goldberg the same question.

Chapter 8 of Lean In claims that one of the most important career choices a woman makes is whom to marry. She and Goldberg, who’s as laid-back and genial as Sandberg is intense and energetic, dated after several years of friendship, during which time Sandberg was briefly married. Four years ago Goldberg left a big job at Yahoo so the family could be together in Northern California. He took over SurveyMonkey, which at the time had 14 employees. “That was hard,” he says. “But what Sheryl has been supergreat about is that there may be a time when we’re going to move someplace for my career.”

(MORE: Readers Respond: How to Get Ahead at Work)

The job change hasn’t held Goldberg back. SurveyMonkey now has a staff of 200 and 14 million users, and he just completed a recapitalization of the company that values it at $1.35 billion.

Sandberg urges women to negotiate shared household duties with their spouses early and often. “We have areas of responsibility. I do travel. I do anything electronic, computers, cars,” says Goldberg. “I do photos and videos. We share the child care 50-50. Although it’s not like we keep score.” And he does the finances. Since Facebook went public, his wife has cashed out about $90 million worth of shares, according to a schedule that was set before the IPO, and she still has almost 18 million shares left. But she demurs when asked how much she’s worth, claiming that that’s Goldberg’s area. “He manages our money,” she says. “I have essentially no interest.”

There is always chatter, especially among Californians, that Sandberg, who’s a big Democratic fundraiser, will return to the public sector. She has the contacts and skill set. “I really loved being in the government,” Sandberg says. “I won’t rule out that I would ever want to go in again, but not run for office. But, not now. It’s not the right time for my family.” According to her father Joel, public policy was always her first love, but he’s not sure she isn’t there already. “Turns out that she probably has a better platform for doing it this way,” he says.

Sandberg doesn’t act as if she wants to leave her current job, even though it’s almost impossible for her to become CEO. “Ironically, having written a book about women and leadership, having, like, the top leadership role is not the most important thing to me,” she says. “I could have done that on the way out of Google. I had those offers.”

It may be that solving the problem of fade-out in women’s potential is enough of a mission for Sandberg, at least for now. It has proved to be a significant challenge for many of the corporations and governments that have tried to address it. But it’s possible that in amassing circles of women and giving them simple empowering tools, she’s putting the infrastructure and players in place for a much more ambitious trophy than a seat in the corporate boardroom. Getting women to the highest echelons of business might be her idea of getting them to the starting line. After the women get the power, well, then she can really let loose.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Sheryl Sandberg

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