The technology industry has long been criticized for lack of gender diversity. While 56% of individuals holding professional jobs in the U.S. are women, they hold only 28% of proprietary software jobs, 25% of IT jobs, and own only 5% of tech start-ups.
Many point to the fact that few women choose to study computer science and technology, which is true — women only hold 28% of B.S. degrees in computer science — but it ignores the fact that women feel discouraged from pursuing careers in the field. Many blame negative stereotypes of female scientists and technical experts, while others cite career barriers. Many women who attend computer science programs in college cite negative experiences there as well, reporting feelings of isolation in male-dominated classrooms or lack of encouragement from male professors.
Top Women in Technology
It is a frustrating process to break into the tech industry, but once there, female innovators can find boundless success. When women work to break the barriers that hold them back, incredible things happen, just as they did for these ten famous women in technology:
1. Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook
Four-time Forbes’ Power Woman Sheryl Sandberg oversees business operations at Facebook, from global outreach to human resources, earning her place as one of the leading women in technology.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Sandberg attended Harvard University to receive her bachelor’s degree in economics. After a stint working at the World Bank, she attended Harvard Business School before joining the U.S. Department of Treasury under the Clinton administration. In 2000, she left D.C. to work for Google for seven years before moving to Facebook in 2008. In 2012, she became the first female member of Facebook’s board of directors, and her stock in the company, along with her hard work, earned her a place on the billionaire’s list in early 2014.
In addition to her work for Facebook, Sandberg writes and speaks about the lack of women in the technical industry. In 2013, she wrote Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which has since sold more than a million copies. The book was written to support women with lofty ambitions, and it was so enthusiastically received that Sandberg created LeanIn.org, a platform for women around the world to support each other as they work toward their goals.
2. Danae Ringelmann – Cofounder of Indiegogo
Ringelmann created her crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, to make fundraising tools more available to artists and entrepreneurs. However, in order to make her dream a reality, she risked her livelihood.
Danae received her bachelor’s from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before moving to California to work in finance. She worked primarily with aspiring filmmakers and musicians, all looking for investors to help fund their work. She quickly realized how much these independent artists had to go through to get funding, and she tried to develop a new avenue for them. After experiencing a few fundraising failures from within the finance industry, Danae made the decision to leave her current career to return to school and pursue her dream.
In 2007, she founded Indiegogo with two of her business school classmates, who both shared her dream of a crowdfunding platform. By 2009, the site had gained traction in all industries, making it possible for anyone to start a campaign for their startup or project. Now, Indiegogo has helped fund over 200,000 campaigns, collecting several million dollars in contributions from across the globe.
3. Susan Wojcicki – CEO of YouTube
Silicon Valley native Susan Wojcicki was Google’s 16th employee, and she housed the new company in her garage for a few months as it gained momentum. Now CEO of YouTube, Wojcicki has been credited with the ideation of Google AdSense and Google’s decision to purchase YouTube. She also played a huge part in the successful marketing of Google’s search engine.
Wojcicki graduated from Harvard after studying history and literature and had originally planned on getting a PhD in economics until she discovered the tech industry and fell in love with it. In 1998, Susan left her job at Intel to become Google’s first marketing manager and helped guide Google through the years. In 2006, she spearheaded Google’s YouTube purchase, looking to buy out the competitor of Google Video. After the purchase, Wojcicki nurtured YouTube as it grew into one of the most valuable media sharing sites on the internet. She was finally named CEO of the video sharing site in 2014 and has used her position to continuously push the site to innovate and engage YouTube creators.
Wojcicki is also a prominent advocate for federally mandated, paid parental work leave. She strongly supports the idea that paid parental leave will help bolster the number of women participating and thriving in the workforce, and Google agrees with her! Google provides employees with 18 weeks paid parental leave, as well as special parking places and on-site nursing rooms that Wojcicki helped design.
4. Gwynne Shotwell – President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX
The future of space transportation is being shaped by SpaceX, a private company working on space flight. Though owner Elon Musk takes most of the spotlight, the daily functions are overseen by Shotwell. While managing over three thousand employees and fifty missions, she negotiates contracts with space exploration groups from around the world, including NASA.
Shotwell studied math and engineering at Northwestern before working at Chrysler, followed by the Aerospace Corporation. She joined SpaceX in 2002 when it was still a start-up, taking up the mantle of chief-of-sales. After six years of working tirelessly to keep SpaceX funded, she became president of the company in 2008.
Shotwell is very vocal about the lack of women in the tech industry, and she urges young women to study science and technology in spite of the industry’s unwelcoming reputation.
5. Kara Swisher – Co-Executive Editor of Re/code
Former business reporter Kara Swisher stepped into the digital revolution in the mid 1990s, starting with tech articles before launching Re/code, a tech-news site, with Walt Mossberg. Now, Re/code is a must-read for tech insiders and interested outsiders alike.
A Philadelphia-born New Yorker, Swisher graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service before doing her graduate work at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. After graduation, she worked as a reporter at The Washington Post, covering business news. After recognizing the onset of a digital revolution, Swisher decided to pursue news about the tech industry instead, moving to the Bay Area and leaving the Post for The Wall Street Journal. With funding from the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones, Swisher teamed up with Mossberg to create All Things D, a popular tech blog. Eventually, they launched Re/code independently with funding from NBCUniversal.
Swisher aims to uncover the truth in the tech industry, and she is both respected and feared for it. Her blunt, to-the-point attitude is iconic within the tech world, so much so that she has been featured as a guest reporter in several tech magazines and appeared as a cameo in the tech-oriented HBO show Silicon Valley.
6. Meg Whitman – CEO of HP
Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, became CEP of Hewlett Packard in 2010, and she has since been a key player in the reorganization of the tech firm.
Born and raised in New York, Whitman earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton University before pursuing an MBA from Harvard Business School. After graduating in 1979, she moved to Cincinnati where she worked as a brand manager at Proctor & Gamble, and she developed her skills in marketing and business. From there, she worked in a string of high-profile positions with Disney, FTD, Hasbro, and others. In 1998, she ended up in Silicon Valley, working as the CEO of eBay. She led the fledgling company to become the most predominant online auction platform in the industry, increasing their sales a hundred fold by the time she stepped down in 2008.
After pursuing a brief political career, she returned to the business world to take on Hewlett Packard, restructuring the company to better focus on selling servers, software, and storage hardware.
7. Jennifer Pahlka – Founder and Executive Director of Code for America
Jennifer Pahlka acts as the bridge between the world of tech and the world of politics. As both founder of Code for America and Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the White House, Pahlka strives to bring technologically skilled people to cities that can use the help.
Pahlka graduated cum laude from Yale with an American Studies degree before working for several nonprofits. She worked for eight years at CMP Media, where she led the Game Group, overseeing the Game Developers Conference, Game Developer magazine, and Gamasutra.com. After working her way into the tech industry, Pahlka began to notice areas for improvement in the government — most noticeably in their clunky, ill-designed websites and interfaces. To help local and federal government update their systems to the modern age, Pahlka founded Code for America, a team of volunteer programmers who use technology to make government better, from their websites to their internal programs.
In addition to Code for America, Pahlka helped found the United States Digital Service and is well recognized for her famous TED talk, Coding a Better Government.
8. Safra Catz – Co-CEO of Oracle
Safra Catz previously served as chief financial officer and president of Oracle before becoming chief executive officer and has served the company since 1999.
Born in Israel, Catz was raised in Massachusetts. She attended Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and she holds a Joint Degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She first worked for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, first as a banker, then as Managing Director, then as a Senior Vice President. She stayed with the company from 1986 until 1999, when she joined Oracle Corp. As CEO, she oversees finance, manufacturing, and legal operations within the firm as well as maintains Oracle’s home base while it is expanding its operations into Romania.
Under her leadership, Oracle has made great strides in closing their internal gender pay gap, awarding Safra equal compensation as her Co-CEO, Mark Hurd. As a result, Safra Catz earned her position as the highest-paid US female executive of 2015, and was the 18th highest-paid executive overall.
9. Grace Woo – Founder of Pixels.IO
Dr. Grace Woo invented a technology called a video response code that can turn any screen into an online interactive experience, making it possible for people to exchange information by simply pointing their mobile devices at one another. Pixels.IO is the result of this invention, and it’s slated to become the next big idea in info-sharing technology.
Philadelphia-born and Illinois-raised, Woo attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Electrical engineering at the young age of 19. She went on to attend the Media Lab at MIT and received her PhD in electrical engineering and computer science. Pixels.IO was the practical application of her doctoral thesis project — a way to bring her invention into the public eye and make it useful to the general population.
Woo is very vocal about the challenges that women face in the tech industry, but she is also quite optimistic. Engineering, in her mind, is an equal playing field for men and women to show off their skills and earn the chance to succeed.
10. Caterina Fake – Founder & CEO of Findery, Co-Founder of Flickr and Hunch
Fake never expected to make it big in the tech world. After the unemployed painter learned basic coding skills from a neighbor, she landed a job at a web-design firm, starting her on a long and winding path to success. She ended up co-founding both Flickr and the social search engine Hunch. She is also chairman of the board of Etsy and is at work on a start-up called Findery, a message-board of sorts that tags physical locations with digital notes.
Fake grew up in a suburb in northern New Jersey to a Filipino mother and American father. She developed her love for the internet early on as a way to connect with people across the globe and pursue her many interests. People who work with her know her as someone who understands people. Her variety of eclectic interests, from music to poetry and board games, has helped her to connect with a wide variety of people and sense what they wanted. When Flickr came onto the scene, people praised it as fresh and enjoyable, marking it as an incredible and unexpected success.
After her successes with Flickr and Hunch, Fake is now focusing on developing Findery, but she continues to run her own personal blog and social media pages. They feature her opinions and snippets of news scattered among posts about poetry and music.
Paving the Way for More Women in Tech
These women have all worked tirelessly to shape the modern tech industry, and they have each done so in their unique way. Do you want to become one of the next top women in the technology field? Learn more about Vista College’s technology programs and how you can start your own path through the technology industry.