Women in Leadership at Google, Pinterest, and Facebook Share Their Secrets to Success

Here are their 5 biggest takeaways on finding career success and happiness.

It isn’t common to see women in technical leadership positions with statistics showing that only around 20–30% of women are in such roles at some of the biggest tech companies in the world. In one of our most popular sessions at COMPASS, we had the honor of hearing from three incredibly talented senior leaders during our Women in Tech Panel (you can watch the full video here).

The panelists and moderator included:

  • Li Fan (SVP of Engineering at Pinterest)
  • Ning Li (VP of Engineering at Facebook)
  • Sophie Wang (Sr. Director of Data Science & Engineering at Google)
  • Mo-Yun Fong (Director of Operational Excellence, gTech Velocity at Google)

Combined, these women have more than six decades of experience in engineering and leading technical teams at some of the world’s most prominent companies. From discussing their career path, the risks they took, to how they balance work and family, this was an incredibly important conversation to be had and one that resonated with so many of us. Our moderator, Mo-Yun Fong also masterfully guided the conversation and helped dig deep into the experiences of the panelists.

So how did they rise to the top in tech and what can we learn from their success?

Below we share our top 5 takeaways:

  1. Don’t settle for comfort or assume that the easiest path will lead to success.

Before Ning Li was presented with the opportunity to work at Facebook, she had a very stable job as an engineer at IBM. Ning was faced with the decision of giving up her comfortable lifestyle to join a fast-paced startup with a drastically different culture where she would be faced with unprecedented challenges. Ultimately, she followed her intellectual curiosity and took the risk of joining Facebook. She learned everything that she could to help scale the company and eventually, worked her way to becoming the VP of Engineering.

Li Fan’s departure from comfort came when she was an engineer at Google and her boss asked her to lead an unfamiliar team. Her initial instinct was to decline, given her lack of familiarity with the technical projects associated with this new team and the many unknowns that came with this opportunity, but she decided to accept the challenge. Through this experience, Li realized her potential to become a great manager, positioning herself to eventually become SVP of Engineering at Pinterest.

Sophie Wang had spent ten years in academia as a Research Scientist, and largely believed this would be the career she would have for the rest of her life, before she was offered an opportunity to join a startup. Not surprisingly, it was a major transition for Wang to go from academia to the industry and it was a certainly a rocky road for the startup. Nevertheless, she gained invaluable experience and built relationships with colleagues that ultimately led her to an opportunity at Google, where she has worked her way to becoming the Sr. Director of Engineering and Data Science.

While each of these women had slightly different career paths, the point is that:

Venturing outside of your comfort zone and accepting unfamiliar opportunities can lead to unexpected territory and growth.

2. Share responsibilities with your spouse or partner.

By default, women often take it upon themselves to handle both professional and personal responsibilities with the expectation of succeeding in both areas. Wang notes that while tradeoffs are required at times when it comes to raising a family or excelling at work, it is absolutely necessary to collaborate and split personal responsibilities with your partner. This isn’t a science where tasks must always be split 50/50 between both parties, but rather women and their partners need to be cognizant of when it makes sense for one person to focus on his or her career and for the other to play more of a supporting role and vice versa.

The burden should never rest solely on the the shoulders of one person.

3. Surround yourself with other high caliber women and support each other.

In addition to having a supportive spouse Wang could confide in and share responsibilities with, she also emphasized that it is important to have strong friendships with women and for women to encourage one another. She calls this, “Quality Girlfriend Time”. By surrounding herself with accomplished women, Wang was able to create a supportive network that she could turn to for advice during challenging times. In turn, she also often shares her insights and “I’ve been there, done that” stories with women who are going through similar experiences.

4. Don’t ignore, but embrace, your hankerings for change.

According to Ning, if you feel like it’s time for a career change, then you should pursue it. It’s rarely too early to have this realization, but never too late to take a risk that will help you grow.

Cherish the opportunities that come to you and don’t hold back.

Even when you’re unsure of the exact outcomes, it is better to embrace the challenge and give it your best effort than to not try at all. This will also help you figure out what you’re good at and what you might enjoy doing that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.

5. Trust yourself and be yourself.

Success comes with doing your job well and perpetually learning new skills (both technical and non-technical) through challenging and impactful projects. A good reputation naturally follows your success; therefore, it is a waste of time to dwell on how others may perceive you or to seek external validation. Don’t let your insecurities cause you to second guess yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions (that everyone will forget anyway). Even when you make mistakes, Li suggests that simply being honest and authentic with your team will turn your vulnerability into a strength. If you still face doubters, Wang says,

“The best thing women can do is just prove them wrong. I’ve done this over and over again in my career.” #wellsaid

Hopefully, these women’s stories and advice will inspire many of us to go out and fulfill our own career potential. :)

Watch the full panel discussion below:

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About the Author — Vivian is passionate about working at the intersection between education, career, and tech. She currently leads Customer Success at Leap.ai, a career development platform that helps professionals find career success and happiness. Prior to Leap, she was with Girls Who Code and TFA after graduating from Yale.

What were your top takeaways from the Women in Tech panel?

Let us know in the comments below!


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