Look at any list of the top names in tech, and you will invariably notice that women are very much outnumbered, often representing only a third at best. (Also read: 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.)
To find the women who have risen through the ranks, you may have to look at the lists that are devoted to women specifically. There are a number of them, and this list cannot take them all into account. Instead, it presents a dozen. Some of the names are very well known, and some are less so.
Whether they have worked their way up the ranks of a well-established business, have developed a completely innovative concept that forms the basis of a new one, or have the vision to realize which new tech company they should be investing in, they all are highly accomplished in their field.
Some also had first-hand experience with discrimination and sexual harassment and were motivated by that to help build better companies, organizations and futures for the next generation of women.
1. Whitney Wolfe Herd
Herd is the CEO and founder of Bumble. She launched the site as a dating app in 2014 after having left Tinder, a company she helped build up and then sued after suffering sexual harassment there.
Bumble has now expanded beyond dating to a larger social app. As described on the site, Bumble was designed to shift the playing field from the typical male-centered dating app to a way to connect that is safe and appealing for women.
"Bumble was first founded to challenge the antiquated rules of dating. Now, Bumble empowers users to connect with confidence whether dating, networking, or meeting friends online. We’ve made it not only necessary but acceptable for women to make the first move, shaking up outdated gender norms. We prioritize kindness and respect, providing a safe online community for users to build new relationships."
In 2020, Herd was included in Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. In 2021, she achieved the distinction of becoming the world's youngest female self-made billionaire after taking Bumble public. She maintains an 11.6% stake in her company that is worth over $1.5 billion.
2. Kelly Steckelberg
Steckelberg has held the position of chief financial officer of Zoom Video Communications since 2017. Prior to that she was the CEO of dating site Zoosk. She also developed relevant experience working for companies like Cisco's Webex.
The fact that her position gave her substantial Zoom stock options worked out well for the CFO of a brand that is now a household name. Thanks to its free access, during the pandemic, it was widely adopted when in-person meetings, social events, and classes had to be replaced with virtual ones, Zoom’s stock price continues to surge upwards with more than 331% growth anticipated for 2021.
3. Joy Buolamwini
Buolamwini identifies herself on LinkedIn as: “Algorithmic Bias Researcher | Poet of Code."
She’s only 31 now, and in 2019 she appeared on Forbes list of 30 Under 30 for Enterprise Technology.
She identifies her life mission as battling bias in machine learning, which she identifies as a "coded gaze." In a TED Talk a few years ago, she explained that as algorithms are entrusted with more and more decisions that shape policies and the way they are executed, accountability in coding becomes essential.
In 2020 she was featured in a Fast Company article, Meet the computer scientist and activist who got Big Tech to stand down. It noted:
"Today, Buolamwini is galvanizing a growing movement to expose the social consequences of artificial intelligence. Through her nearly four-year-old nonprofit, the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL), she has testified before lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels about the dangers of using facial recognition technologies with no oversight of how they’re created or deployed."
Buolamwini and Timnit Gebre were coauthors on Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification, a landmark paper that demonstrated facial recognition was fairly accurate for white men but much less so for women or people of color.
4. Vivienne Ming
Ming’s LinkedIn profile labels her profession as “Professional Mad Scientist.” More formally, she is known as a theoretical neuroscientist, technologist and entrepreneur. She is the cofounder and Executive Chair of Socos Labs. which does invite anyone who is interested to join its “Academy of Mad Scientists.”
Dr. Ming earned a PhD in psychology & theoretical neuroscience from Carnegie Mellon University. She combines her interests in that with technology in the explorations at Socos and is frequently sought out for her insight into AI.
As noted in her profile, she has learned to capitalize on AI to solve problems, “In her free time, Vivienne has invented AI systems to help treat her diabetic son, predict manic episodes in bipolar sufferers weeks in advance, and reunited orphan refugees with extended family members.”
Nevertheless, she acknowledges and has highlighted some of its limitations, as she explained in a presentation entitled Understand Your Love/Hate Relationship With AI in which she said:
“A lot of times, the failings are not in AI. They’re human failings, and we’re not willing to address the fact that there isn’t a lot of diversity in the teams building the systems in the first place. And somewhat innocently, they aren’t as thoughtful about balancing training sets to get the thing to work correctly. But then teams let that occur again, and again. And you realize, if you’re not thinking about the human problem, then AI isn’t going to solve it for you.”
5. Reshma Saujani
Saujani is the author of Women Who Don't Wait in Line: Break the Mold, Lead the Way, the New York Times bestseller, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World and the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect: How Celebrating Imperfection Helps You Live Your Best, Most Joyful Life, She presented the theme as the prerequisite for girls to achieve in the field of tech in her TED Talk, "Teach girls bravery, not perfection."
She is also the Founder/CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization devoted to closing the gender gap in technology by challenging stereotypes about programmers. However, after nearly a decade as head of the organization, she is planning on stepping down as CEO, a position to be filled by Tarika Barret. She will remain on as board chair.
In her Medium post on the plans, Saujani wrote:
"In the last ten years, Girls Who Code has reached 300,000 girls around the world — our cohort of college-aged alumni is 80,000 young women strong. We are on track to close the gender gap by 2030. But still, the COVID-19 pandemic has set countless girls back academically and professionally; and we’re still up against a culture that says girls do not belong in tech; and up against an industry that needs to be held accountable for hiring, retaining, and promoting women and people of color."
6. Kimberly Bryant
In 2011 Bryant founded and became the CEO of Black Girls CODE, a non-profit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology.” Its defined goal is:
"To increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology. To provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040."
In 2015, she explained that her motivation was a very personal one in a blog: "I didn’t want my daughter to feel culturally isolated in the pursuit of her studies, as I had as a young girl. I didn’t want her to give up on her passions just because she didn’t see anyone else like her in the classroom. My daughter, and other girls of color, needed an organization to help them grow and succeed in today’s digitally-driven innovation economy. And so, Black Girls CODE was born."
Noting how it had taken off and expanded, Bryant further observed: "Women and girls are naturally agents of change. If we teach one girl to code, she will go on to teach more – we’ve seen this in our own programs and workshops around the country. And we know this expands beyond the individual: by giving these girls the skills they need to succeed, they can go on to change not just their own trajectory but the collective trajectories of the communities they represent."
7. Gwynne Shotwell
Shotwell is President and COO of SpaceX and a member of the company’s Board of Directors. She came joined SpaceX when it was a brand new company in 2002, as its eleventh employee. Her title then was Vice President of Business Development. SpaceX became the first private company to send American astronauts into space in May 2020.
Bloomberg included her in its list of 50 who defined the year 2020 and quoted what she said in the news conference after the successful mission in May, that she considered “only the beginning” for what SpaceX would do: “We’re starting the journey of bringing people regularly to and from low Earth orbit and on to the moon and then ultimately on to Mars.”
Shotwell was named winner of the 2011 World Technology Award for Individual Achievement in Space, and in June 2012 she was inducted into the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame.
8. Katie Moussouris
Moussouris is the founder and CEO of Luta Security. Leveraging over two decades of cybersecurity experience, she gathered together a team to help organizations and businesses achieve better security by working with computer hackers.
Big name clients like the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Facebook, and Zoom have all been clients of Luta Security. Moussouris serves as a security advisor not just for organizations but even for governments around the globe. She is also the co-author and co-editor of ISO 29147, 30111, and 27304, international standards revolving around information technology and security.
Moussouris gained some recognition in 2016 when she got involved in developing the first "bug bounty" program for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). At the time she was still the chief policy officer for the security fim that specialized in bug bounties, HackerOne.
She was quoted in the Wired article on the event, saying that finding bugs requires outside help even for the most “well-funded” entities: "Whether you’re a well-funded government like the U.S. or anyone else, you have to work with the hacker community," she observed.
9. Sheryl Sandberg
One of the most recognized names on this list and in the tech world, Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. In 2008 Mark Zuckerberg hired Sandberg away from Google where she held the position of Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations. That year, as CNN reported, Facebook’s revenue amounted to $272 million, though it still showed no profit. In fact, it had a $56 million loss that year. A decade later, under her leadership annual revenue exceeded $55 billion and profit was $22 billion for the year.
According to Forbes’ analysis, Sandberg’s “ focus on positioning Facebook as a platform for small business advertising helped increase ad revenue by 27% during 2019, to $69.7 billion.
10. Anne Wojcicki
Wojcicki is the cofounder and CEO of genetic testing company 23andMe. She started out as a Wall Street analyst, but then shifted gears by enrolling in medical school. Instead of becoming a doctor, though, she channeled her biological interests into the genetics research of 23andMe, which launched in 2006.
In 2018 GlaxoSmithKline put $300 million into the company, which helped it go on to gain approval for ten genetic risk tests and expand into drug discovery.
11. Susan Wojcicki
As you may have guessed from the name, Susan is Anne Wojcicki’s sister, but she is famous in her own right as the CEO of YouTube, a position she has held since February 2014.
Her Menlo Park garage was the original Google office. In 1998, Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page rented it to work on developing their search engine there. A year later she was hired as Google’s sixteenth employee.
At Google Wojcicki was involved in a wide variety of applications, including AdSense, Google Analytics, Google Books, and Google Images. But she is the one who saw great potential in video and pushed for the $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube. She then advanced to CEO, and manages that Division of Alphabet that is now worth around $90 billion.
12. Ellen K. Pao
Pao’s LinkedIn summation says: “25 years in tech with no end in sight. Advocate for giving everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech. “
In 2012 she publicized the struggles women still confront in the field of technology when she filed a workplace gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Though she lost the case, the attention it garnered was a win of sorts.
Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University, was quoted in the New York Times article on the suit, saying, “This case sends a powerful signal to Silicon Valley in general and the venture capital industry in particular.”
In 2015 Pao cofounded Project Include, a nonprofit organization with the “mission is to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech.” It aims to draw on “data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry.”
Women have a strong, although largely unrecognized, history in many areas of technology. As the boundaries between the tech world and the world at large continue you blur and merge into each other, where high tech products and services touch every facet of our lives, there is hope that opportunities for women and people who are now underrepresented will grow. (Also read: Women Who Shaped the Tech World.)
The women on this list and the ones who work in the industry without achieving the same levels of fame are setting the groundwork to make it more welcoming to new people, ideas and standards of inclusion.