BY JORDI ROTH / JUN 03, 2013 15:56PM
Just a handful of women have made it to the very top of the tech world. But as evidenced by Sheryl Sandberg’s 10th week on The New York Times bestseller list with her book Lean In, when those women who have made it speak, people listen.
Earlier this month at Google’s annual developers conference, a number of female senior executives at the search giant presented lightning talks on their rise to the top of the tech industry.
These talented women who’ve been instrumental in building the online world shared some advice for other women entering the tech world. The themes they raised covered universal issues relevant to women in any male-dominated industry.
- Paint a vision and people will followJohanna Wright, now the vice president of search and assist at Android and previously a Google search engineer, shared her own ‘Lean In’ story and how her attitude helped her climb to the top.When she was eight months pregnant she discovered she’d need to schedule a C-section for the delivery. At the same time her boss, Marissa Mayer, suggested that she lead a team of engineers to come up with the company’s search strategy for the next year and present it at a meeting.
“On Wednesday I gave the strategy presentation, on Thursday I had my baby,” she said. “That might be horrifying to some of you, but to me it was invigorating. And it set me up to have a leadership role when I returned from my leave.”
She was quick to emphasise that her career success was not about sacrificing family for her work, but has come about because she seized the opportunities that were presented to her.
She also highlight the importance of having a manager who had confidence in her and gave her the opportunity to pave her own career path. Managers, she said, shouldn’t assume their team’s abilities and desires, but enable greatness to grow in their teams.
“Managers should be prompting employees to share their ambitions and place faith in their attempts to achieve these,” she said.
“It was really huge that my manager believed in me”.
- PersevereWright also outlined how she moved into her father-in-law’s house after her start-up went out of business, a situation that people who work in technology should be prepared for, she said, because unemployment is rampant in the industry and a career in tech is not going to be linear.”It’s a disruptive industry,” said Wright. “You, too, might someday be unemployed on your father-in-law’s couch. What matters is the energy and tenacity with which you pick yourself up to take on your next adventure.”
- Do crazy things – there’s less competition.Susan Wojcicki joined the company after renting the garage of her home to the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. When she started to use the product, she realised she wanted to be a part of its success.The day after she joined the team as Google’s 16th employee, Page and Brin, who were fresh out of college, declared they had a mission for the company: they wanted to organise the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful.
Now senior vice president in charge of advertising, Wojcicki said outlining a big vision is important to success. There are so many things still yet to be done and it’s important to focus on those things.
“Doing ambitious things sounds hard, but when you break them down, realise it’s possible. It’s a lot less competitive because there are fewer people who want to do crazy things,” she said.
“Do something important, think big, have a big goal about how you can change the world.”
- Don’t hold backAnna Patterson, a vice president of engineering and artificial intelligence at Google, shared advice she said came from “hacker stories from the trenches”. She urged women to be tenacious, and to keep going when things don’t work out as planned. Despite facing several hurdles during the rise, and then fall of the dot com era (her $33 million search engine project failed to take-off), Patterson continued to experiment and push forward.”After having my fourth child, I did what everybody does when they have four kids and they’re on maternity leave,” she said, “I started a company.”
- Visibility will help other women rise to the topMegan Smith, vice president at Google X, the lab for the company’s big new projects, acknowledges that there really is a problem with how visible women are in the industry, which played a major part in Google giving a grant to Geena Davis’ research company to measure the gender imbalanceof women on television.You can’t be what you can’t see, she said, noting “you manage what you measure”. With the number of technical women in the industry currently sitting at 10 to 20%, Google wants to see that number rise to 50%.
“Women are largely invisible in technology,” she said. “That’s part of our failing. So our goal is to increase visibility.”
“Products are better when built with diversity. Companies are better with diversity. The world is better.”