Randi Zuckerberg On Women In Tech: It's 'Complicated'

Twitter made its public debut this week, but there was criticism, too. There are no women on its board of directors. Facebook also drew criticism last year when it went public with an all-male board of directors. Host Arun Rath talks with Randi Zuckerberg, CEO of Zuckerberg Media, former marketing director of Facebook, and sister of Mark Zuckerberg, about the lack of women in high-level positions in Silicon Valley and about her new book Dot Complicated: Untangling our Wired Lives.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Twitter became a publicly traded company this week amid some fanfare. There's been criticism along with the celebration, though. Among other things, it's hard to ignore that Twitter has no women on its board, and only one among its executive officers. Facebook, too, was criticized when they went public last year with an all-male board of directors.

Women represent a small fraction of engineers, investors and executives in the industry, and the absence is striking when it comes to companies like Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, a recent study from the Pew Research Center found that women are more likely than men to use social media.

With me to talk about women in the tech industry is Randi Zuckerberg. She's the CEO of Zuckerberg Media, the former marketing director for Facebook, and the sister of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. She's also the author of a new book, "Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives." Randi Zuckerberg, welcome.

RANDI ZUCKERBERG: Thank you. It's great to be here.

RATH: So you started out in Silicon Valley at Facebook, in its very early days. In your book, you say one of the biggest challenges was being thought of as a roadie. And I don't think that means what I would've thought it meant, originally.

ZUCKERBERG: That's right. I joined Facebook in 2005. It was still very much kind of a "brogrammer" culture, if you will; very, very few women, especially in senior positions. And it was definitely a bit of a fight, especially as a nontechnical employee, to be heard at the same level in Silicon Valley.

RATH: You know, Randi, there's a paradox here that these are technology companies, right? And they're the most forward-looking entities that you could think of. And they're so backwards in this way, in terms of female representation. Do you think that is a paradox, and why is it so dramatic?

ZUCKERBERG: It's certainly a paradox. I think there's a few things going on here. First of all, when you look at some of the top universities in sciences, math, engineering, you're seeing 90 percent male in those graduation rates. So the issue is starting - it's not even on the corporate level. The issue is starting on the high school and the college level, I think, is where we need to start looking at it; where we need to start encouraging women to go into these professions a lot more.

I think at the corporate level, things have changed for the better quite a bit in the almost 10 years that I've been in Silicon Valley. Obviously, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there in order to make sure that the user base, which many of these companies is majority female, is being represented on the senior level.

RATH: If we got to that level, if we got better representation - more women executives, more women engineers - how do you think things would be different?

ZUCKERBERG: It's interesting because when you look at a company like Pinterest, Pinterest didn't grow out of super tech users in Silicon Valley. It didn't grow because the traditional investors were throwing money at it. It grew because it hit a nerve with women in the middle of the country.

Now, I think in a situation where you have more female investors, female engineers, women in more powerful positions in Silicon Valley, they're poised to better identify opportunities like that first, and help expand them more quickly. I do think we've seen a lot of progress in the past few years on seeing more women step into leadership in entrepreneurial roles. And you're starting to see the traditional male VC firms taking a look at companies that are more traditionally targeted to women.

RATH: Which is another thing that - you know, venture capitalists, the vast majority are male.

ZUCKERBERG: That's right. I think that it takes time to shift norms. When you have this ecosystem where all the top graduates coming into the system are male, all of the investors are male, all the leaders are male, they're thinking of things in a very narrow way. Suddenly, when you start to introduce women in powerful positions into the mix, when you start to introduce minorities in powerful positions into the mix, you suddenly start getting this much richer ecosystem of startups and consumers that you can reach.

RATH: Your new book, "Dot Complicated," it's about how technology and social media have infiltrated our lives, and how to learn when we need to disconnect - which seems like, you know, obviously, it seems like a funny thing coming from you, Randi Zuckerberg.

ZUCKERBERG: It definitely - I can definitely see how it seems ironic coming from someone with the last name Zuckerberg. But I do think when you look at the early stages of social media, people didn't really understand yet, at that point, that these services were mostly powerful for connecting to people you already knew.

Suddenly, we're at this point where we've realized, gosh, it's overwhelming to keep in touch with hundreds or thousands of people we don't know very well. And in fact, it's taking us away from our lives, from our enjoyment of the people right next to us. So I think we're seeing a backlash. People are trying to reclaim a bit of their time, their sanity; and be less overwhelmed by technology.

RATH: Randi Zuckerberg is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media. She's also the author of two new books, "Dot" and "Dot Complicated: Untangling our Wired Lives." Randi, thank you.

ZUCKERBERG: Thank you very much.

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