Role models. Where are they? That is what I wondered when I first began my technology talk show in my parents' garage almost seven years ago. I was just starting my career when every magazine on every newsstand featured scantily clad Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. I needed a strong, female, career-oriented role model — who wasn’t related to me (sorry, Mom!). Obviously, Paris and LiLo weren’t going to cut it, and not just because they weren’t in tech.
When I set out to book guests on the pilot season of The Valley Girl Show in 2008, I had a terrible time finding women to participate. There were so few in leadership positions at the biggest tech companies. Thankfully, Heidi Roizen, a former VP at Apple who is well-known for the Harvard Business School gender study on Heidi/Howard Roizen, agreed to be my first guest. At least I managed to score an interview with one trailblazer.
It’s no secret there are significantly fewer women working in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries than men. After doing more research on the topic, I wanted to change these numbers however I could.
I am a fourth-generation entrepreneur and the first girl in that line. I love the world of technology; it’s incredibly familiar to me because I grew up in Silicon Valley and my dad worked with start-ups and entrepreneurs. He would bring me along on these incredible business trips to international conferences, meetings with Chinese diplomats, and even to Ukraine to meet former president Viktor Yushchenko. I attended the first-ever Skype board meeting in Estonia when I was 16.
My whole life, I have been very lucky to be on the forefront of technology. All of these situations were life-changing experiences, and I am grateful that my dad brought me with him and included me in his work. However, during all of these experiences, there were no women to be found. This was especially noticeable in China, where I often had to sit quietly in a corner chair by myself and was never invited to sit at the table. Sometimes, I wasn’t even allowed in the room while meetings were taking place. This was new to me. But it inspired me to want to make a change.
I want to encourage more women to get out there in technology and other businesses, and even in politics. In the technology industry specifically, I believe there are two major issues that hold women back: 1) There is not enough funding for women, and 2) there are not enough women willing to put themselves out there in front of a camera and be the role models we need.
I made it a priority on The Valley Girl Show to make sure 50% of my guests are women, and we have actually exceeded that — a fact I am very proud of. There are so many incredible women out there doing amazing things in technology, from Elizabeth Holmes running the healthcare company Theranos to Catheryne Nicholson building bitcoin software with BlockCypher. I want these women to become household names. We have come a long way in the past seven years, but there is still further to go.
Ahead, I’ve shared some of the most memorable things I learned by interviewing some of my favorite women who are paving the way. These are names you should know — if you don’t already.