The other day I read an article in the Mercury News titled “Who will be Silicon Valley’s next Steve Jobs?” This photo sums up the article:
That reflects the industry I work in. Thinking back on my past jobs, everyone in the C-suite were men. White men. My first startup was founded by four white men. My last job was at a large, international public company, where all of the C-level executives were male. My startup now — of 32 employees, four are female. For a long time I was the only woman. We’re adding on our executive team, and not surprisingly, the employees brought on for the high-level positions are all men. Is it just that there aren’t enough women working in tech, or is it something more than that? Even at my last company (the large international technology company) there were many female mid-level managers, but they were all stuck in middle management.
And even if women are few and far between in Silicon Valley, isn’t there one that deserves to be in the running as the next Steve Jobs? How about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook? Heck, it was only a few months ago when the same man who wrote the “who will replace Steve Jobs” article wrote an entire piece on the Top 10 Women of Silicon Valley — I guess he forgot about them when capturing the key execs to highlight in this piece (oh, wait, Sandberg is mentioned down below as one of the reason’s Mark Zuckerberg is so brilliant — for hiring her.)
Watching the leaders of companies I’ve worked for — especially the ones that I think are really GOOD leaders — I see that these leaders can come off (like Steve Jobs) as assholes at times. It’s not that they are assholes outside of the business world, it’s just that they don’t care about much other than what is best for their business. And if someone isn’t going to contribute to that, then they are worthless to that leader. But — the leader will also go out of his way to motivate and reward people who are actually contributing to making the business run well and succeed. I don’t think I have the asshole in me. At least, if I let her out, she’d come out at all the wrong times, and it wouldn’t help anyone or any business. It’s rare to find a woman who is able to stand up for herself and her ideas that much, especially in an industry that’s primarily men. Women are taught to compromise. I think there’s truth to that as one of the reasons so few of us rise to leadership positions in technology or in any industry (though it’s worse in tech and other male-dominated industries.)
Everyday I switch back and forth between dreams of being a truly innovative person in Silicon Valley — who happens to be a woman — and having absolutely no confidence in getting anywhere near accomplishing that feat. It’s frustrating because I feel like a many times as I’ve failed thus far, I’m still on a trajectory that could lead towards success. I’m turning 28 in a few months and I’m already at a Director level role within a fast-growing startup, I have a book deal on the table (though that’s far from a sure thing right now), and I’ve become fairly known across a few key industries in technology (I could do a better job at promoting myself, but for what I’ve done, I’m always surprised how many people have heard of me.) Still, going from where I am today to VP level or C-level, just, well, it seems impossible. I certainly don’t represent all women, but if the picture above signifies reality, I also feel I fit in that picture — as in, not in the picture at all.