When Mark Zuckerberg introduced Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg to the company on her first day, he didn't limit his praise to the usual niceties about her professional accomplishments or impressive resume.
Instead, he apparently made things more personal -- and more awkward, particularly for the social network's female employees.
According to Katherine Losse's tell-all book about Facebook's early years, "The Boy Kings," which is rife with anecdotes about sexism endemic in the Facebook "fraternity," Zuckerberg told employees at the all-hands meeting he convened to introduce Sandberg, "Everyone should have a crush on Sheryl."
"[S]ome engineers claimed in an engineering-wide email thread immediately after the meeting to have the requisite crushes," Losse writes. "It seemed odd to me, as if all of this kneeling to worship Sheryl was some kind of compensation for the fact that no female employee had ever received such treatment before."
Losse notes that Zuckerberg also, bizarrely, commented on Sandberg's skin.
"When I met Sheryl the first thing I said was that she had really good skin," Zuckerberg said, according to Losse. "And she does."
Zuckerberg's intentions weren't to be dismissive of Sandberg or demeaning toward her, yet his choice of words reflected the male-dominated nature of Facebook at the time, Losse told The Huffington Post.
"That’s one of those instances where you’ve got a bunch of guys and they're not really aware of those kinds of issues, so those kinds of things [like Zuckerberg's remark about Sandberg] can be said because they don't realize that this is a workplace," Losse said in an interview Tuesday. "And Sheryl is doing an awesome job, but the appropriate response to that is not to have a crush on her, it's, 'You're doing an awesome job, we value you as a colleague.' That's a way you'd think about things as a woman and as someone a little more experienced in the workplace."
Sandberg, who joined Facebook in 2008 and has been an outspoken champion of women in the workplace, was named the first -- and only -- female member of Facebook's board of directors on Tuesday following months of outcry by investors, users and advocacy groups.
Losse, Facebook's 51st employee, notes that Sandberg helped rein in sexist attitudes toward women that permeated the workplace in the social network's early years. Losse recalls telling Sandberg about an engineering director who "had been known to proposition women in the company for threesomes." That director, she noticed later, had "been subtly demoted."
"The arrival of Sheryl Sandberg really helped [with sexist attitudes in the office] because she was vocal and would say, 'I really care about women in the workplace. I want to make this a good place to work,'" Losse told HuffPost. "I think that was a huge relief for women employees."
Losse writes in "The Boy Kings" that "Mark was too busy programming to get to the part of a liberal arts education where you study social inequality." She continues by stating that while he listened to her complaints, not much was done to curtail any unwanted sexual advances.
In one incident, a female employee complained that while waiting in line for her lunch, a woman was told by a co-worker, "I want to put my teeth in your ass."
Though Zuckerberg addressed the issue in a meeting with employees, Losse said she had the sense that the CEO's attitude was to "blow off sexual harassment in the office."
According to Losse, Mark's response to the "ass" advance was, "What does that even mean?"
"[I]t was hard to tell whether it was with faux or guanine naiveté," Losse writes.
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the book.
Also on HuffPost:
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more