What’s next after women tech leaders step aside?

When Susan Wojcicki was named CEO of YouTube in 2014, she was in relatively good company as a female leader in Silicon Valley.

Former Google colleague Marissa Mayer ran Yahoo and graced magazine covers. Sheryl Sandberg was an influential second-in-command at Facebook, which had just published a best-selling book on corporate feminism. Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was at the helm of her HP, and Ginny Rometty was the first woman in charge of her IBM.

Last week’s announcement that Wojcicki was stepping down from his leadership role at YouTube marked the end of an era. The tech industry has now lost an entire generation of pioneering female leaders, most of whom have been replaced by men.

“It’s like having 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 tech sector has long lagged behind other industries when it comes to the percentage of women in leadership roles. And according to McKinsey & Company and her LeanIn.Org’s latest “Women in the Workplace” report, women leaders of American companies are more likely than ever to leave after the pandemic. Wojcicki’s announcement came just days after Meta’s chief business officer, Marne Levine, said she was leaving after 13 years at the company.

None of the big five tech companies – Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft – had a female CEO. And Wojcicki’s CEO title at Alphabet subsidiary YouTube was probably the closest thing she had. Now that she’s stepped down, Big Tech is facing new thinking about its failure to promote and support female leaders and what this means for the next generation of women in the industry.

Women ‘have to fight a little harder’ at Silicon Valley boys’ club

As a Silicon Valley woman, “I think it’s fair to say we have to fight a little harder,” says Sima, co-founder and former CEO of the app Houseparty, who has held leadership roles at Epic Games, Yahoo, and Tumblr. Sistani said. She last year she was the CEO of WeightWatchers.

“Having a network of other women has been important to my success,” Sistani said. .

Sistani isn’t the only one facing the tough battles women face in tech. Silicon Valley has long had a passion for a male-dominated bro culture.

Former Pinterest Chief Operating Officer Françoise Bloor sued social media platform for sexism and retaliation in 2020, reporting “humiliating and sexist comments” directed at her by another company executive He claimed in court documents that he was fired after doing so. Pinterest settled the lawsuit later that year, but the legal battle is seen as another example in a string of cases that highlight how even the most powerful women in tech are treated. was

There are still a handful of women at the top of technology, though lesser-known, such as meta CFO Susan Li, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, and chipmaker AMD CEO Lisa Su. Meanwhile, high-profile women in tech, such as Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal, policy and trust, have been targeted in vicious online harassment campaigns.

Laura Clay, a professor of leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, said of Wojcicki’s exit from YouTube, “It’s hard to read the recent departure of a prominent female leader as further evidence that the tech sector isn’t doing it. ‘ said. Realizing the company’s stated desire to create an inclusive culture that attracts and retains the best talent. ”

Driving change for the future

Now at the helm of WeightWatchers, Sistani brings not only her experience as a female leader in the workplace, but also her digital expertise to the company. Late last year, her Sistani, a mother of two, expanded WeightWatchers’ paid parental leave program. This is a move she believes is essential to providing a level playing field for all parents at the company.

Clay, who is also director of Berkeley’s Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership, said having women in top leadership positions is critical as it provides role models and mentorship opportunities for entry-level women. said. Ranked up. ”

For women in middle management, this representation at the top is important, and women tend to see their higher career aspirations realized or thwarted. Without them, this transition period could be tougher for the next generation of female leaders,” Clay said.

Daija of the Bridge organization added that one of the lessons learned from the exodus of prominent female tech leaders is the importance of succession planning. This is to ensure that when a female CEO steps down, other women are ready to build on her progress. “When roles are replaced with the same representations that we already have, we don’t keep losing ground, we maintain and build,” she said.

Wojcicki will be succeeded by Neal Mohan, who spent 15 years at Google and most recently served as YouTube’s Chief Product Officer.

Sistani said it may feel like “a step back” in having so many high-profile women in tech sidelined, but “it’s also important to look for where things work.” I think.”

She pointed to the fact that for the first time in history more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs.

“Instead of being discouraged by these moments, we can think about what a great example someone like Susan is. [Wojcicki] “I think what she’s achieved and what she’s modeled for will live on beyond the fact that we don’t have a female big tech CEO.”

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