A generation of high-profile female tech leaders has stepped up. What’s next? | CNN Business
When Susan Wojcicki was named CEO of YouTube in 2014, she was in relatively good company as a female leader in Silicon Valley.
Marissa Mayer, his former colleague at Google, ran Yahoo and posed for magazine covers. Sheryl Sandberg was the influential second-in-command at Facebook who had just published a best-selling book about corporate feminism. Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was at the helm of HP, and Ginni Rometty was the first woman in charge of IBM.
Wojcicki’s announcement last week that she was leaving her leadership role at YouTube marks the end of an era. The tech industry has now lost an entire generation of pioneering female leaders and replaced them mostly with men.
“It’s almost like we have to start from scratch,” said Sheryl Daija, founder of Bridge, an advocacy group made up of dozens of diversity, equity and inclusion business leaders.
The technology sector has long lagged behind other industries when it comes to the representation of women in leadership roles. And in the wake of the pandemic, women leaders in corporate America are more likely than ever to quit, according to the most recent Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org. Just days before Wojcicki’s announcement, Meta Chief Commercial Officer Marne Levine also said she would be leaving after about 13 years at the company.
None of America’s Big Five tech companies (Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft) has ever had a female CEO, and Wojcicki’s title as chief executive at Alphabet subsidiary YouTube perhaps put her most near Now that she’s gone, Big Tech faces fresh scrutiny for its lack of promotion and support for women leaders, and what that could mean for the next generation of women in the industry.
As a Silicon Valley woman, “It’s fair to say you have to fight a little harder,” said Sima Sistani, the co-founder and former CEO of the app Houseparty, who previously held leadership roles at Epic Games, Yahoo and Tumblr of becoming a woman. CEO of Weight Watchers last year.
“Having a network of other women was critical to my success,” Sistani said. “And I give a lot of credit to the women who helped support and also pave the way forward.”
Sistani isn’t the only one fighting back against women in tech. Silicon Valley has long taken heat for its male-dominated “broculture.”
Francoise Brougher, Pinterest’s former COO, sued the social media platform for gender discrimination and retaliation in 2020, arguing in court documents that she was fired after reporting “degrading sexist comments” toward her from another company executive. Pinterest settled the lawsuit later that year, but the legal battle was seen as one more example in a series of incidents highlighting how even the most powerful women in tech are treated.
There are still a handful of women, albeit less well-known, in the upper echelon of tech, including Meta CFO Susan Li, Oracle CEO Safra Catz and Lisa Su, CEO of chipmaker AMD. Meanwhile, some well-known women in tech, such as Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal, policy and trust, have become targets of brutal online harassment campaigns.
Laura Kray, a professor of leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, said that with Wojcicki’s departure from YouTube, “it’s hard to read the latest exit from a high-profile female leader as anything other than further evidence that the tech sector has failed to realize its stated aspirations to create inclusive cultures that are able to attract and retain top talent.”
Now at the helm of Weight Watchers, Sistani brings her digital expertise to the company, as well as her experience as a female leader in the workplace. Late last year, Sistani, a mother of two, expanded Weight Watchers’ paid parental leave policy, a move she saw as crucial to creating equal opportunities for all parents at the company.
Kray, who is also the director of Berkeley’s Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership, said having women in senior leadership positions is crucial because it provides role models and mentoring opportunities “of leaders who may have faced with similar challenges as them. rose through the ranks.”
This representation at the top is critical for women in middle management, the point at which women tend to see their highest career aspirations realized or thwarted. “Without women in the C-suite who have come before them, it could make this transition period more difficult for the next generation of women leaders,” Kray said.
The Bridge organization’s Daija added that one lesson from this exodus of high-profile female tech leaders is the importance of succession planning, to ensure that when a female CEO steps down there are other women ready to step down to build their progress. “When the roles are replaced by the same representation we already have, we don’t keep losing ground, we maintain and build,” he said.
Wojcicki will be succeeded by Neal Mohan, a 15-year Google vet who most recently served as YouTube’s chief product officer.
While Sistani said it may seem like “we’ve taken a step back” with so many high-profile women in tech stepping in, she added: “I think it’s important for us to also look for the places where things are working .”
She pointed to the fact that female CEOs now lead more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time in history.
“Instead of getting discouraged at this time, we can think about what a great example someone like Susan is [Wojcicki] it’s shaping up,” Sistani added. “I think what she accomplished and what she modeled will be something that will last beyond the fact that we don’t have a female CEO of Big Tech now.”