Last week one of my best friends, Carolyn Everson, departed Facebook. And despite thinking of her always as family, I have no more information than anyone reading the press reports about her departure. That said, after more than 10 years overseeing the majority of revenue, which comes from advertisers, building the company to more than $80 billion, and driving the investor growth from the public offering to today’s staggering stock price, Facebook publicly said these few words about Carolyn’s departure:
“We wish Carolyn the best as she moves into a new chapter,” a Facebook spokeswoman said. “We are grateful for her contributions.”
Eighteen words. That’s it for the most powerful person (not just woman) in advertising, who helped grow Facebook from a backroom operation to a powerhouse commanding more than a quarter of the world’s digital advertising and sending the stock skyrocketing from IPO to today’s closing that is sure to climb from the foundation Carolyn Everson built. Not “contributed.”
To add insult to injury, the statement was put out by a nameless “spokeswoman” and not by Mark Zuckerberg himself, even though it appears she left on her own terms. Leaving on your own terms, especially for women, historically and apparently in this instance, does not sit well with a tech industry that still behaves openly and indirectly in misogynistic ways that many have chalked up to “Well, that’s how male-engineering-dominated Silicon Valley works.” To that, I say, “Bullshit. It’s time for meaningful change.” The handling of Carolyn’s departure, when compared to how Facebook and the industry have treated men who leave on their own terms, is stark in its difference. More so, we still do this even when these men fall far short of the incredible and critical part Carolyn has played in making a company as successful as Facebook and her bosses among the richest people in the world. Not to mention she trailblazed new forms of advertising that will forever alter the media landscape. Most importantly, Carolyn is one of the top leaders in business ever and has led many people simply by her honest, loving, and responsive work ethic.
Let’s talk about the word “contributions” used in the hollow statement. I could not think of a more understated word to describe the invaluable, permanent mark Carolyn has left on the company, pioneering paths for the media industry, and dare I say, the use of her position to improve humanity from her many charitable acts and contributions. In fact, I’m not even sure I can come up with an appropriate single word to counter the abysmal “contributions,” but I know for sure it’s been much greater, more impactful, and certainly sustainable beyond her time with the company, and frankly, some far-off distant day on the planet.
Rather than toil in frustration at the continuing belittling of woman and minority executives in subtle and direct ways, I’d like to offer the words we should have heard and read from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg with regard to Carolyn’s departure:
“We are sad to announce the departure of one of our key executives and pioneers, Carolyn Everson, who has told us she’d like to pursue other interests after more than a decade devoted to us. Carolyn was truly the conscience and heart of our company that touched everyone who worked with her, our company, and many clients. She pioneered a new forefront in digital and social marketing that will endure long after her time here while helping us grow to heights that exceeded every expectation and returned more than we could ever imagine to our company, investors, and the world of billions of Facebook loyalists.
“We are so very fortunate to have Carolyn for more than 10 years when we know many other opportunities have come her way. We could not have endured some of the issues as a company without her strong moral compass and constantly reminding us of ‘what’s right to do.’ Carolyn will always be part of the Facebook family, and we can’t wait to see how she improves the world with her tireless passion whether building a business or putting time into her many worthwhile causes from WE to gun safety in America. Carolyn, you are truly a standout, and we are eternally thankful for making Facebook, Facebook. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, your Facebook family.”
For business leaders who are as smart, accomplished, and now among the richest people in the world thanks in large measure to Carolyn, how could Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg not handle this more compassionately, appropriately, and caringly both for her, the billions served by them, and the many people left behind at Facebook who will carry forward Carolyn’s legacy? Perhaps Facebook and the entire tech industry are so systemic in the repetitive behavior and actions against women (and those of diverse backgrounds) they don’t even realize how lame the public statement was or how insulting it was to have a nameless other woman, rather than Zuckerberg himself, as the spokesperson.
Finally, Facebook’s handling of a woman executive’s departure is a lesson to all women and people of diversity that even the biggest, most valuable name in technology has not advanced on equality to the degree that it either states or certainly behaves. If the company treats someone like Carolyn with so little regard, imagine how it would treat someone of seemingly “less” stature, notoriety, and impact. Actions speak louder than words, even if those words are posted on Facebook. I hope Facebook learns from its first mistake without the heart and conscience of the company guiding it.
For Carolyn, I join the world in reaffirming whatever she does next will be more meaningful, bolder, and brighter than anything to date. For women and people from marginalized communities, take a lesson from Carolyn’s tremendous success and realize there is nothing you can’t accomplish, regardless of what others do or say.
Michael D. Kelley is an author, editorial contributor, journalist, and executive producer with Equal Entertainment, which he co-owns with his life partner. He resides in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Provincetown, Mass.