Marissa Mayer is a geek. As the former VP of search product and user experience at Google, Mayer helped launch more than 100 products and features on the site, including Gmail and, most recently, Google Instant. Now, heading up geographic and local services, she’s overseeing some of the company’s biggest overhauls in search and innovations in social.
But Mayer doesn’t see herself as one of the top executives at Google, one of its earliest employees, or its first female engineer. To Mayer, she’ll always just be a geek.
“I have no idea what it’s like to be a woman at Google–I’m a geek at Google,” she says. “The gender question is the wrong one to ask–who does well in technology is not a division along gender lines. There are a lot of really talented women in technology–but I do think there always could be more.”
Though it might be less ostensible at Google, Mayer recognizes a gender imbalance still exists in the industry, and wants it to end. Women represent only around 15-17 percent of those in technical areas, she says, a percentage that we can increase by encouraging more women to enter science and engineering at younger ages. Mayer was always interested in these fields as a child, and cites her teachers as being a key to her success growing up.
“They never said, ‘Wow, it’s unusual for a girl to be interested in this,'” Mayer explains. “I just never noticed it was something that girls weren’t supposed to do.”
Mayer also believes we must foster a more inviting environment in technology, and remove the stigma that might hinder women from ever entering the industry.
“The real question is: Are we doing enough to make women geeks? It’s about sending a message to girls in middle school and high school, and women in college: If you feel an inclination toward technology, don’t stifle it,” she says. “There is a real dichotomy here that you can’t be a geek, that you can’t be super excited about all this techy stuff, that you can’t be excited about FM transmitters and Flash versus HTML5, while still embracing feminine things.”
“We need to make it clear that that is not a tradeoff.”