YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki still deals with microaggressions from male colleagues as a woman in tech, despite her 20-year career in Silicon Valley and her C-suite position.
“I feel like I’ve been supported … for the most part. But a lot of times there are microaggressions that people aren’t always aware of and that can have a cumulative effect,” Wojcicki said in an interview with Guardian reporter Emine Saner.
These microaggressions include Wojcicki not being taken seriously, being spoken over, and having her ideas ignored. Wojcicki said she’s learned throughout the course of her career to call people out on sexism and microaggressions.
Alternately, she finds ways to get people to initially pay attention to her words, and then really listen.
One technique she describes is to state her comments confidently.
“What I find is, you can’t say comments in a timid, unsure way — no one’s going to listen to you and no one’s going to take you seriously,” Wojcicki told The Guardian.
Another technique is to disagree without hedging. “You have to say something like: ‘No, I completely disagree with your point of view, you’re going in the wrong direction. Let me tell you what I think is the right step for the future,” Wojcicki said. “And then you’ve opened the door and people are paying attention.”
Wojcicki said that one of her long-term strategies is getting more women into tech.
“If only 25% of people coming into tech are women, then there are some stories and some perspectives that are not being shared,” Wojcicki said to The Guardian.
The percentage of women employees at Google his jumped from one-quarter to one-third of total employees under Wojcicki’s leadership, The Guardian reports. Wojcicki identified the challenge of bolstering the number of women in tech as twofold: getting women into tech initially, and then keeping them.
With so few women graduating with degrees in computer science — Wojcicki says just 20% of graduates identify as women — the challenge becomes getting the network started from a smaller pool.
“It’s always hard if you’re the first woman, the only woman,” Wojcicki told The Guardian. “But if you’re working in an organization where there are a significant number, and not just in the entry-level positions, then younger women understand that they can also achieve these leadership roles.”
Once women are at tech companies like Google, keeping them at those companies throughout their careers with policies like maternity leave are important, Wojcicki said. Google offers six months of paid maternity leave; the US doesn’t mandate that companies offer any paid leave for new mothers.
“After I had my last child, I was thinking on day 10: ‘How would I feel if I had to come back right now?'” Wojcicki said to The Guardian, after discussing that one quarter of American women return to work just 10 days after giving birth. “I thought: ‘I wouldn’t – I’d rather quit.'”