The Future of Work

Five of the Top Most Influential Women in Tech

5 Min Read
Sara   |   April 9, 2019
Whitney

As a sector with huge influence in shaping the infrastructure of the world around us and designing algorithms embedded in our everyday lives, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has a disconcertingly under represented proportion of women. In the US, 24.24% of STEM graduates are women and 24.61% of the Tech workforce are women. Just 23.66% of Australian STEM grads are women and 28% of the Tech workforce are women. UK statistics are worse. The gender pay gap for workers in Tech in Australia is 20%. The issue is not new, but the statistics remain problematic. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest the idea that girls are genetically pre-dispositioned to have less of an interest in these fields is simply a myth - Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal College of Engineering points out that in countries like Malaysia and Oman, the engineering workforce is 50% female. The visibility of the Gender issue in these fields has skyrocketed however, and as the power of women in tech rises, so does their responsibility to lead change from within. Read on for our roundup of 5 of the most influential women in tech from the 19th Century, up to now.


Ada Lovelace

Despite being born well before the invention of the computer, Ada Lovelace - the daughter of world renowned poet Lord Byron, had a scientific mind that was atypical at the time for a female. Her tutor Mary Somerville introduced her to renowned mathematician and “father of the computer” Charles Babbage. The two struck up an unlikely friendship and Ada was captivated by Babbages’ invention of a Difference Machine that was intended to perform mathematical calculations. Transcribing a seminar given by Babbage about his “Analytical Engine”, she added in a commentary that was three times as long as the original article - suggesting that computers could be used beyond simple arithmetics to do advanced algorithms. In the notes, she describes an algorithm for a program which is considered to be the first ever written specifically tailored for computer implementation and therefore makes Lovelace the world’s first female coder and the forerunner of our list of women in tech.

 

Sheryl Sandberg

An activist and tech executive, Harvard graduate Sheryl Sandberg was headhunted by Mark Zuckerberg and his leadership team for the role of COO at Facebook HQ in 2008. In 2012 after turning around its profitability, she became the 8th, and first ever female member of the company’s board of directors. Previously the Vice President of Sales and Ops at Google, she was instrumental in the launch of Google’s philanthropic arm google.org and has been ranked in countless “Most Powerful Women in Business” lists. An outspoken champion for Women’s Rights, she is the author and founder of LeanIn.Org - a bestselling book and website intended to support and coach professional women who are prevented from stepping up and leaning into leadership roles by barriers that have been upheld by outdated traditions, stereotypes and assumptions. Sandberg has also founded organisation OptionB.Org which provides individuals with resources that help resilience in the face of adversity - of which she has personally felt the weight of, following the public backlash after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Regardless - having more famous women like Sandberg on the boards of Global companies like Facebook, who are conscious of their social responsibility as a consequence, is the single most valuable way to address gender imbalance in the workplace.

 

Marissa Mayer

Employee number 20 at Google, Mayer graduated from Stanford University with a BS in Symbolic Systems, and an MS in Computer Science specialising in Artificial Intelligence. She is one third of the team responsible for Google Adwords - the advertising platform that allows businesses to advertise to customers based on their search terms. In 2012, Mayer was appointed President and CEO of Yahoo and is a board member of Walmart and Jawbone as well as the “original” web service provider. During her time at Yahoo, Mayer made big changes and product improvements, launching an online employee feedback program, and increasing the time allowed for maternity leave. The company acquired Tumblr in 2013, but the value dropped and Mayer was held responsible by some of the shareholders and investors. Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo was highly controversial, raising her profile and promoting her into a public media figure. She resigned on June 13, 2017 publicly highlighting many of the wins that were achieved during her time with the company, and since then she has continued to support tech talent with investments in several startups and non-for-profits. Despite being named as one of the World’s Most Disappointing leaders by Fortune magazine, she has also featured in their annual list of America’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business no less than 7 times, and was in 2008, the youngest woman ever listed (at 33 years). With fearless resilience she is living proof of the possible outcomes of taking risks and failing fast - an essential trait for growth which everyone, male or female, can learn from.  

 

Belinda Johnson

Texas Law Graduate Belinda Johnson was working for an internet radio streaming company in Dallas as general counsel and corporate secretary, which was eventually bought by tech giant Yahoo. Relocating to San Francisco, she continued as Yahoo’s deputy general counsel for product, litigation and privacy. After spending 15 years with the company, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky hired her as the company’s first executive and she was appointed COO in February 2018. One of the most successful stories in the Silicon Valley startup landscape, AirBnB is a global industry disruptor with 4.5 million listings in over 80,000 cities. She lives out her belief that powerful women cannot make an impact without the support of others, and by encouraging mentorship schemes and getting involved with philanthropic organisations that support female empowerment, uses the company influence for the greater good. A board director at PayPal, she has been named in Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business List, and in Elle magazine’s fourth annual Women in Tech list.

 

Whitney Wolfe

Born in 1989, Whitney Wolfe Herd is the youngest person on our list. College sorority girl turned serial entrepreneur, she has grown three tech companies since graduating in International Studies. Joining Hatch Labs at 22, she became Vice President of Marketing at Tinder, but despite co-founding the company and being credited with its exponential growth within the US student market, she has spoken of her time in the role as one of the “lowest moments of [my] life.” In early 2014 she left Tinder and sued them in a high profile sexual harassment case, and founded what is now their biggest competitor Bumble - the dating app that keeps women in control of the matching. With innovative launch campaigns that declared “We’re not playing the field, we’re leveling it”, the app had generated 100,000 downloads in its first month and after one year, had amassed over 80million matches. Despite enlisting security to protect Bumble’s offices following several aggressive misogynistic online attacks, Wolfe refuses to be intimidated. Instead, she encourages users of the App to help build a community of kind, hate-free and feminist users and grow the organisation into a movement for the establishment and maintenance of healthier, and more equal connections in business, health and homes all over the world.

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How to Make Better Decisions

When I think about the best leaders I've worked with there has always been one element that stands true. I trust and respect their decision making. I don't have to want to be their best friend, but I have to believe in the decisions they make.

I'm faced with a multitude of decisions every day and my biggest priority, both professionally and personally, is to constantly improve how I make decisions. So I thought I'd share the four most important principles I've developed when it comes to making decisions. I've also added further reading within each principle, and if you're keen to learn more I'd highly recommend subscribing to the podcast and blog of Farnam Street as it's a goldmine of wisdom within this field of study.

 

Principle 1: Prioritise

We are faced with a paradox of our own evolutionary making. People who lack choice, seem to want and fight for choice but this has a cost. The more choices and decisions we make, the less effective we become over time at choice making. It's well understood now that we have limited resources when it comes to making decisions, and continually working this muscle creates decision fatigue. We see this in all parts of life, with research showing judges make poorer decisions later in the day. But we're not just talking about big decisions, choices come at us from all angles each day. Choosing what coffee to order, which shampoo to buy, if I should snooze my alarm or get up. No matter how trivial, they all have an impact on our ability to make good decisions. So to improve, the only option is to limit the number of decisions you make. A great tool I found on the Farnam Street blog was a take on the 2x2 Eisenhower matrix that categorised decisions into four categories.

  1. Irreversible and inconsequential
  2. Reversible and inconsequential
  3. Reversible and consequential
  4. Irreversible and consequential

Those decisions that are inconsequential, whether reversible or not, are to be delegated. For decisions that have consequences but are reversible - there is opportunity to run experiments of which your team or individuals can share the learnings. The only decisions that should require your brain power are those which are consequential and irreversible. Of course this is only a framework and you will have to clearly define what the terms ‘consequential’ and ‘reversible’ mean to you and your business. But this has already helped me focus on what matters and build capability and empowerment in my teams.

Further reading: https://fs.blog/2009/07/an-introduction-to-decision-making/

 

Principle 2: Give Yourself Time

It's easy to think that great decision makers are those that are instantly able to weigh up a scenario, identify the possible outcomes and come to an immediate decision. It's impressive but what's the rush? If this really is an important decision - by which I mean one that is both consequential and irreversible, then the desire to make an immediate decision is due to us falling prey to a cognitive bias of pushing to do what is easiest with the available information.

It's hard to think of opposing points of view or other alternate outcomes but that's really what success in my job is all about. I try to give myself time to think about as many contributing factors and apply as many lenses onto a situation as I can. Then I give myself thinking time. Personally, I’ve found I need to change my environment, go for a walk, or sit in another part of the office to let my mind wander around the decision. Play thought experiments and try to walk through the outcomes with different hats on.

One great model from the mathematician Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi is to inverse the problem. To do this, rather than try to think of solving a problem forward (for instance - trying to increase productivity in your team), instead invert the problem, and ask what are all the things that I could do to reduce productivity in my team. Then don't do them! It may not solve the problem you're facing but it can mean you don't factor in arguments that can lead to poor outcomes.

Further reading: https://fs.blog/2014/06/avoiding-stupidity/

 

Principle 3: Be accepting of ignorance

First let's define what a decision in uncertainty means. Uncertainty is when we don't know the outcome of a decision and we don't know the probability of those outcomes. This is different from a decision in risk - where we don't know the outcomes but we do know the probabilities. A professional poker player will know the probabilities of a win based on their hand but the outcome is still unknown. So, when dealing with uncertainty you are going to be ignorant of some elements that are relevant and consequential to a decision. Importantly there are two states of ignorance.

  1. Primary ignorance: If you cannot see it or understand it, it does not exist
  2. Recognised ignorance: We recognise we cannot predict all the outcomes

It may seem that if we can't predict the unknowable outcomes any better if they are recognised or not... then why bother. But when you are aware of your own ignorance, you can start to look for sources of cognitive bias that could cloud your decision-making. There are plenty of such biases that can affect how we approach decision making - but the three that are most relevant are:

  1. Overconfidence Bias: The subjective confidence that accuracy of our own beliefs is higher than the objective accuracy
  2. Salience Bias: We tend to focus on information that is more prominent and perceptible to us, ignoring factors that are less so.
  3. Confirmation Bias: We tend to recall examples that reinforce our existing beliefs

Personally, I look to embrace my own ignorance when it comes to uncertainty and try to uncover how my decisions could be coloured.

Further reading: https://sites.hks.harvard.edu/fs/rzeckhau/anatomy of ignorance.pdf

 

Principle 4: Optimise for the long term

Another factor I find important is to optimise decisions for the long term. Again - the human brain is hard-wired to seek instant gratification. For me, this comes down to looking for win/win scenarios and what is called second order thinking. They are strikingly simple concepts in theory but both require conscious effort to implement. Any relationship, if it is to last, must be win/win so when I'm considering which direction to go, it must benefit both my customer, and Weploy as a business, if it has any chance to prosper over time. The other model, second order thinking can be boiled down to a simple phrase:

And then what?

If I make this decision now, what happens tomorrow, what about in a weeks time, a month, year, 10 years… Not all decisions need you to go too far in the future, but thinking about the branches of possible outcomes through and then what is hugely valuable. I regularly find decisions come up that can be negative in the first order (have a high cost, slow down production etc.) but when we move to the second order and third order they can become a net positive. As all of my decisions should look to build long term, sustainable competitive advantage, second order thinking is essential if I am to succeed.

Further reading: https://medium.com/@noahmp/second-order-thinking-3fc2a224b131

 

So those are the four principles I try to use when making decisions, hopefully you find it valuable and I'd love to hear more about the most important tricks and models you use to improve your decision making.

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Education: Year 12, Cert 4 commercial cookery, Cert 4 security operations

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