According to the forthcoming book The Boy Kings: A Journey Into the Heart of the Social Network (excerpted in today’s The Wall Street Journal), life at Facebook headquarters feels a little more like The Social Network than one might expect, especially for the company’s vastly outnumbered female employees. Here’s how author Katherine Losse, who joined Facebook’s budding customer relations team in 2005, remembers her first day on the job:
Much of the graffiti in the room featured stylized women bursting from small tops that tapered down to tiny waists, mimicking the proportions of female videogame characters. It seemed juvenile, but I wasn’t very bothered — it seemed like the kind of thing that suburban boys from Harvard would think was urban and cool. “We had to move the really graphic painting to the men’s bathroom because someone complained,” an engineer told me as he gave me a tour of the tiny office. He said this with the slight mocking disapproval that was my new colleagues’ default tone in response to anything that resisted their power.
This kind of “unrepentantly boyish company culture,” where one senior manager was known for proposing threesomes with female coworkers, was hard to avoid. For instance, there was the time in 2006 when the entire company went on a Tahoe winter getaway, resulting in at least one raucous party, complete with bearskin hat.
In one of the last photos [this particular engineer] took, Mark is gesturing at me haughtily like an emperor as I stand doubled over in laughter with the bear suit draped over me. It was all innocent fun; everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves, but when I saw the photograph appear in a Facebook album that Monday I was struck by the loaded nature of the image, ripe for interpretation, in which Mark appeared to be commanding a female employee to submit.
Even Zuck’s much-ballyhooed hire of Sheryl Sandberg away from Google wasn’t without its awkward, politically incorrect moments, like when he introduced her with this icebreaker: “When I met Sheryl, the first thing I said was that she had really good skin, and she does.” In Mark Zuckerberg’s defense, Losse admits that Sandberg’s face “had an admittedly creamy tone” that day.