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Technology today influences every aspect life, constantly changing and becoming more progressive. But while the word "technology" suggests innovation and progress, employment statistics still show a gender divide, particularly when it comes to women.
In February 2020, Statista analyzed self-reported data from Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and found that women make up between 28% and 42% of the total labor force for these five tech giants. Women in leadership positions in those same companies range from 25% to 33%, and the percentage of women in tech jobs drops even further to between 20% and 23%.
While there is much work left to do, that disparity is gradually changing.
Here are nine of the top women in tech today, many of whom are powerful activists working for greater diversity and representation in their fields.
1. Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code
Kimberly Bryant excelled at science and mathematics as a child and earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt University. There, she obtained a Bachelor of Engineering degree in electrical engineering with minors in mathematics and computer science.
For more than two decades, Bryant took on technical leadership roles in several pharmaceutical and biotech companies, including Novartis and Merck.
It wasn't until her daughter showed an interest in computer science that Bryant realized there was still a lack of Black women in the science, technology, engineering and math professions. This gap wasn't due to a lack of interest -- it was due to a lack of access and exposure to STEM topics.
Bryant founded Black Girls Code in 2011, a San Francisco nonprofit that exposes girls of color ages 7 to 17 to STEM subjects. Here, girls can learn in-demand skills as they think about what they want to be when they grow up. The organization has the goal of teaching 1 million Black girls to code by 2040. Today, the organization has 16 chapters across the United States and one chapter in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Read Bryant's stance on change in the workplace here.
2. Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle
Safra Catz immigrated to the U.S. from Israel at age 6. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and her Juris Doctor from Penn Law.
Catz was a banker at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, working her way through the ranks to become the managing director, then senior vice president of the firm. In 1999, Catz joined Oracle as its senior vice president. She joined the company's board of directors in 2001 and was named president in 2004.
Under Catz's direction, Oracle initiated more than 130 acquisitions and mergers over the next decade. The most well-known of these acquisitions was direct rival PeopleSoft, which Oracle acquired in 2004 for $10.3 billion.
In 2014, Catz became co-CEO of Oracle, along with Mark Hurd. She became the sole CEO in 2019, after Hurd's death. She also teaches accounting at the Stanford School of Business and was elected to the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co. in 2017.
3. Elizabeth Churchill, director of user experience at Google
Elizabeth Churchill attended Sussex University and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in research and experimental psychology and a Master of Science degree in knowledge-based systems. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.
Churchill moved to California to join FX Palo Alto Laboratory and later Palo Alto Research Center. From there, she held positions at various tech companies, including Yahoo, eBay and Google. She is currently Google's director of user experience. In this role, Churchill researches and presents on topics related to computer science, psychology, design, analytics and anthropology to make user experience more precise and efficient.
Churchill also serves as the vice president of the Association of Computing Machinery. She also has more than 50 patents granted or pending, and more than 100 published articles in multiple fields of psychology and computing.
4. Kate Crawford, co-founder of New York University's AI Now Institute
Kate Crawford embarked on a career exploring the sociopolitical implications and applications of artificial intelligence after earning her Ph.D. from the University of Sydney.
In her research, Crawford seeks to understand the benefits and dangers of AI and machine learning in the broader context of history, politics, labor, the environment and other sectors. Crawford advocates for mindful and respectful AI development. Her work examines how those technologies could potentially lead to bias, labor and supply chain disruptions, economic impacts due to automation, and privacy violations and curtailment of rights from increased surveillance.
Crawford's work has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times and The Atlantic. Her insight has led to multiple speaking engagements and advisory roles to policymakers at the United Nations and the White House.
Crawford co-founded New York University's AI Now Institute in 2017, the first university institute dedicated to researching the social impact of AI, and the first women-led and founded AI institute. The institute's goal is to change how researchers look at AI and expand their interpretation of it from a technical standpoint to include history, sociology and law to inform their development decisions.
Read a paper co-authored by Crawford about gender, race and power in AI.
5. Fei-Fei Li, co-director of Stanford's Human-Centered AI Institute
Fei-Fei Li was born in Beijing, China, and moved to the U.S. at age 16. She graduated from Princeton with a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics, and from the California Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in computer science.
After graduating, Li taught engineering and computer science courses at the University of Illinois and Princeton. She then joined the staff at Stanford in 2009, where she still teaches as a fully tenured professor. Li served as the director of Stanford's AI Lab from 2014 to 2018. She currently holds the title of co-director of Stanford's Human-Centered AI Institute.
Li's research focuses on cognitive and computational neuroscience, and machine learning to improve AI image recognition ability. This research led her to take a sabbatical from Stanford from January 2017 to September 2018, when she served as vice president of Google and chief scientist of AI and machine learning at Google Cloud.
Li also founded AI4ALL along with her Ph.D. student, Olga Russakovsky in 2017. AI4ALL is a nonprofit aimed at increasing diversity in the AI sphere through education, recruitment, mentoring and training students in historically underserved communities. AI4ALL has partnered with professionals from organizations such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code. Today, it operates summer programs in 16 locations across the U.S.
Learn more about Li's thoughts on developing ethical AI here.
6. Ellen Pao, co-founder and CEO of Project Include
Ellen Pao learned how to code at age 10 from her mother -- a computer engineer at the University of Pennsylvania. Pao went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in electrical engineering and a certificate in public policy from Princeton University. She also earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
After working for several Silicon Valley companies -- including WebTV and BEA Systems -- Pao became the technical chief of staff at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a San Francisco venture capital firm. She ended up suing the company for bias and gender discrimination.
In 2013, Pao became Reddit's head of business development and strategic partnerships, then interim CEO in 2014. Pao is an advocate for women's rights and transforming corporate culture, and she banned the use of "revenge porn" and unauthorized nude photos on Reddit. This move inspired other social media platforms to institute similar policies.
Pao later resigned from Reddit and founded Project Include with several other women in the tech industry. The group's mission is to address and prevent sexism and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley, and to improve diversity and inclusion within tech companies.
7. Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code
Reshma Saujani graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in political science and speech communication. From there, she received her Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and her Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.
Saujani became the first Indian-American woman to run for U.S. Congress in 2010, when she campaigned for a New York House seat. During the race, she ran the first political campaign using tools such as Square to receive donations. And while visiting area schools during the race, she saw firsthand the gender gap in computer classes.
In 2012, Saujani founded Girls Who Code to address that gender gap in the tech workforce, with programs for grades 3 all the way through college. The organization offers summer immersion and campus programs, online resources, books, after-school clubs and college alumni programs. To date, the organization has served more than 450,000 girls, approximately half of whom are from underserved communities made up of Black, Latina and low-income girls.
In 2017, Saujani published her book, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World, promoting the tenets of her organization.
8. Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX
Gwynne Shotwell earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics from Northwestern University. After graduation, Shotwell enrolled in the Chrysler Corp.'s management training program to begin a career in the automotive industry. But she quickly changed course to work on military space research contracts with Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif. There, she became the chief engineer of an MLV-class satellite program, where she researched and developed policies for commercial space exploration for the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA.
Her interest in space exploration made her a top candidate for SpaceX in 2002. SpaceX brought her on as its 11th employee and vice president of business development. Since then, Shotwell has become the company's president and COO, making her responsible for day-to-day operations and company outreach and development.
SpaceX was the first private company to put a commercial satellite into orbit and the first private company to send humans into orbit and to the International Space Station. It is also the world's largest commercial satellite constellation operator.
Shotwell has been inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2020.
9. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube
Susan Wojcicki originally pursued a career in academia. She graduated with honors from Harvard University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and literature.
Wojcicki developed an interest in technology during her senior year at Harvard. She went on to earn a Master of Science degree in economics from the University of California Santa Cruz and a Master of Business Administration degree from UCLA.
After graduation, she returned to Silicon Valley to work in marketing at Intel. She later moved to Menlo Park, where she rented her garage as office space to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. She became Google's 16th employee and first marketing manager, helping to develop Google Images and Google Books.
Wojcicki helped develop AdWords and AdSense -- Google's advertising and analytics products. From there, she became Google's senior vice president of advertising and commerce, where she led the company's advertising and analytics division, including Google Video.
She then proposed acquiring YouTube -- a direct competitor to Google Video -- rather than attempting to compete with it. In 2006, Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion.
Wojcicki became YouTube's CEO in 2014. She continues to lead the Google subsidiary in its role as one of the most influential and frequently used platforms on the internet.
How to get more women in IT jobs? Mandate an inclusive culture