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From Facebook and Google, most powerful in Silicon Valley have women's night out

July 25, 2008 |  3:40 pm

Facebook COO Sheryl SandbergThere was quite a turnout of high-powered women in technology at Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women dinner in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer and former Google exec (at right); Gina Bianchini, chief executive of social network Ning; Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, head of Google in the Asia Pacific region and Latin America; EBay Senior Vice President Stephanie Tilenius; Catherine A. Lesjak, Hewlett-Packard's chief financial officer; Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO of Blip.tv; and Ruth Kirschner, head of West Coast sales for Google and DoubleClick (also married to Fortune senior writer Adam Lashinsky, one of the few men invited).

The evening reaffirmed the presence of powerful women in the echelons of Silicon Valley at a time when there is rising concern that women have lost ground, with the recent ouster of Diane Greene as chief executive of VMware and the absence of any women at the helm of the top companies here. Silicon Valley lays claim to some pretty highly placed women who weren't at the event, such as Yahoo President Sue Decker, Oracle Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz and Hewlett-Packard Executive Vice President Ann Livermore.

Fortune magazine started its ranking of the world's most powerful women a decade ago. Fortune editor-at-large Patricia Sellers says it's now the magazine's second-biggest franchise after the Fortune 500. It began with a list topped by Carly Fiorina in October 1998 before she was crowned chief executive of HP the following July. At the time, Fiorina was "squeamish" about women being segregated in such a list, but "she has come around," Sellers said.

Sellers led a panel of three "rising stars" at San Francisco restaurant Jardiniere (the chef ditched judging "Top Chef" to cook for the occasion). The panel included Google's Cassidy, Lululemon Athletica Chief Executive Christine Day and Tilenius, who former EBay chief and technology trailblazer Meg Whitman had recommended by saying that Tilenius had run just about every part of EBay and could lead the entire company someday.

The trio talked about how they define power, balance their families and career ("The key to marriage is negotiation," Cassidy said); whether there is a narrower acceptable range of behavior for powerful women than for men; and how important their spouses have been to their ability to climb the corporate ladder and treasure important moments -- such as making it home for a daughter being crowned homecoming queen.

The message of the evening: Regardless of gender, great leaders are authentic. Tilenius said she was "in pain" watching the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Tilenius wished that Clinton had campaigned more as herself than as a tough guy. Tilenius recalled a colleague once telling her during a leadership forum that he imagined her leaving the house every morning and donning a gladiator's suit. She realized she could be herself and still be a great leader.

"Just be who you are," Tilenius said.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. Credit: Google

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