Back in 2008, Lori Goler, then a marketing executive at eBay, placed a call to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and asked her a simple question: “What is your biggest problem and can I help solve it?” Sandberg's answer was "recruiting"—and it soon became Goler's challenge too after Sandberg quickly hired her.
Seven years later, despite little prior experience in human resources, Goler leads all of H.R. at Facebook—putting her at the intersection of some of today's most pressing talent issues, such as improving the dismally low numbers of women and minorities in the technology industry and managing a millennial workforce.
On Leadership caught up with Goler at Fortune Magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit, held recently in Washington, to talk about diversity, what she's learned in her career and why she calls Facebook's generous parental leave by another phrase. The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. What’s the best solution you’ve heard so far to get more women into tech?
A. In many schools, women represent more than 50 percent of the population, but, across the nation, just 18 percent of the computer science degrees are going to women. That’s down from 37 percent in 1985. So really, the one thing that would make a big difference for us is to get more women to choose careers in technology, and particularly to study computer science.
Q. What do you think is the biggest hold-up there?
A. A friend once said to me, “If we had more women in computer science, there would be more women in computer science.” And so I think it’s just a question of chipping away at it and making sure we can get more women in there so they can have the social network, the same support structure, the same role models and mentors and coaches that the guys have had for so many years.
Q. Yet even if the pipeline isn’t strong enough, there are a lot of things companies can do too. Facebook is implementing the Rooney Rule, for example, which is an idea borrowed from the NFL that there needs to be a diversity candidate included when interviewing for every job. How is that working?
A. We’re very early in this journey and we only have a few months of data, so it really isn’t enough to say how it’s going to go over time. But I will say it’s pretty promising. It’s a great way for us to be sure that we’re at least meeting people for all of the different roles, so that there are opportunities and conversations. Part of it is just building relationships and getting to know people so that as things do open up over time, we have more space.
The other thing we’re doing is we built our own managing bias training. It’s a two-hour course for us. We are in the process of putting the whole company through it. We released a one-hour version of it publicly, so that anyone who is interested can take a look. Really, it’s about addressing the real issues, having the hard conversations, tackling them head-on, and giving people a safe space to talk about it.
More than anything, it’s important to acknowledge that you have bias. Everyone has bias. It’s just part of the human condition. But if you aren’t aware of it, you’re certainly not managing it and thinking about it carefully. What we find is that organizations and individuals who think they don’t have bias have the worst outcomes on diversity.
Q. You’ve been at Facebook now for seven years. What’s the biggest lesson you've learned about leadership?
A. The biggest? There have been so many. One thing that we really believe in is leadership at all levels—that’s something that not every organization embraces. We have found that your leadership, your follower-ship, is not necessarily defined just by the org chart. There are people in every different role around the world, at every different level, who have been able to provide leadership in so many ways at Facebook. That’s been really rewarding to see happen.
The other really amazing thing about leadership at Facebook is just the authenticity of it. Sheryl Sandberg always says, “Bring your whole self to work.” We use Facebook as an enterprise tool internally, so we are a very connected community of people inside the company. It’s not like 'this is who I am at home and this is who I am at work.' That has been really empowering. I haven’t really worked that way in the past. It brings the team much closer together, and it’s great for collaboration.
Q. There’s been a lot of innovation lately in employee benefits and human resources. What’s new or coming at Facebook that you’re most excited about in that regard?
A. I’ve been really happy with some of the benefits we’ve had in place, mostly to support women and families. We’ve been able to support surrogacy and adoption and freezing eggs. And I think the most innovative thing actually isn’t even a perk. It’s the culture of flexibility at Facebook.
We’re very focused on delivering results, so everybody knows what they’re goals are and what results they need to deliver. Then they have the autonomy and the flexibility to figure out how to do that in the best way possible.
Q. Speaking of perks, I’ve read that you call maternity and paternity leave at Facebook “the four-month leave” when talking with expecting parents. Why do you do that?
A. It's just a way neutralize and interrupt any bias that might be happening. It’s really important for the men to take it—and that also makes it easier for the women to take it. They feel the same things that a woman might feel when she’s going out on leave, and I think all of that just breeds more empathy, collaboration and understanding across gender lines.
Q. And by calling it the “four-month leave,” are you basically reinforcing that it’s okay to take the whole time? Many companies have rolled out long leave benefits, but I think the big question is whether people really feel they can take it.
A. Oh absolutely. Yes. Our intent is to get people to take the full amount of time. Men and women both.
Q. Another way to do that is setting an example at the top, right? What kind of parental leave is Mark Zuckerberg going to take when his baby is born?
A. Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what he’s going to do. We actually have a lot of male leaders who have taken the full parental leave. Tom Stocky is one of our product leaders who has been out in the world talking about his parental leave. We’ve had our CTO take his full parental leave. We’ve really made it an important part of the role-modeling that happens in the organization.
Q. You have no idea how long he’s going to take?
A. We’ll see. We’ll see what he decides.
Q. A number of tech companies, including Facebook, have boosted pay and benefits for contract workers. Is there a shift in the responsibility toward corporations rather than state or federal governments to push for these things?
A. In our case, we saw an opportunity to play a leadership role across companies in this regard. It’s good for our business, it’s good for the community of people who are helping us to connect the world—that’s why we did it. I hope it will provide a positive role model for other companies. We’ll see how it turns out.
Some of these changes are going to require changes on both sides, both in the public and the private sector, so we’re hoping that we can do what we can in the private sector to provide a role model for them.
Q. The majority of employees at Facebook are millennials, and there’s so much discussion about how this generation is supposedly so different. Are they really?
A. Facebook is the first Fortune 500 company founded and still led by a millennial, Mark Zuckerberg, so our culture really developed as a millennial culture. I think it really embraces a lot of the things that are important to the millennial generation. Some of the those things are being open, being transparent internally, being bold, having impact.
Learning is also really important to this generation. It’s often misinterpreted as getting bored quickly, wanting to move on. It isn’t—it’s just wanting to learn more.
The other thing that we see now that’s important for the millennial generation, at least at Facebook, is the sense of meaning and fulfillment at work and in your work. It’s something that we’re digging in to understand a little bit better, but it certainly isn’t an expectation that I had coming out of school—that I would find fulfillment in my work. It wasn’t the way that I thought about my career as a Generation X person.
Q. How would you describe your own leadership style and how has it changed over the years?
A. One of the things that I like to focus on is finding people’s strengths. I think people work best in their areas of strength. It’s actually one of the philosophies we’ve tried to implement at Facebook, which is aspiring to build roles around people rather than people around roles—letting them play in the areas of their strength, and looking for the areas where they lose track of time and get into the flow of things.
We find that that’s where you get outlier performance. That’s where you get the strongest engagement. That’s where you get the spikiness that occurs in a good way in a company and in a performance.
Q. Tell us about a lesson you learned the hard way.
A. One of the things that has come more recently for me—and I’m still working on it—is authenticity in leadership style. It’s one of the things that I’ve really admired about both Mark and Sheryl: the authenticity that they bring to their leadership. If you just look at their Facebook posts, you can see it publicly.
You can imagine how it plays out even within Facebook. It allows people to feel like they know them personally. There’s a warmth there. People who haven’t even met Mark and Sheryl at Facebook would tell you that they know them. That's a really important leadership trait, and it’s one that comes more naturally as you practice it over time. You have to start opening up and talking about things that are happening in your life.
I’ve begun to practice that over the last several years. When I first came to Facebook, people said, “I feel like I don’t know you at all. I sort of know your work self. And I know you have three kids, because I can see them on Facebook, but who are you really?”
Actually, Facebook was the first time I ever got that feedback, which I thought was pretty interesting. It was a generation that expected that from its leaders. The first few times I heard it, I thought, "That’s really not a thing." But then over time, it was clear to me that it actually is an important part about being a leader.
Q. And so how did you adjust your style? Are you sharing more stories about your kids?
A. We talk about things internally that we wouldn’t otherwise talk about. So for example, at an off-site with my team, we’ll start with what we call a “check-in,” where you share something that’s happening at work—sort of your high-level thoughts at work—and what’s happening for you at home and in your personal life.
It leads to a place where you have really authentic interactions and conversations that just change the relationships and dynamics in the room right away. It helps you all work together and helps the business, and it just gives you a sense for who’s in the room and what they’re really bringing to the room.
After doing that practice for a while, people almost don’t even mention the work side. It’s a time to share something very personal that’s happening, and it is amazing how much they are willing to share.
Q. What are you not doing at Facebook today that you would like to do in the future, in terms of a benefit being offered or an approach to managing people?
A. The primary thing is we’re just trying to scale the culture and be sure that it grows with us over time. It won’t be exactly the same. It will evolve and change. But it will continue, I hope, to stay relevant.