CEOs in search of board candidates with the names of women
who have been endorsed by peers for both private and public
company boards. At its launch, the list included more than 600
names of people who had been endorsed by industry investors and
CEOs. It also earned her a spot on Fast Company’s list of “Most
“I started theBoardlist for a couple of reasons,” she explains. “In
tech, we have a diversity problem, and it’s not limited to women
entrepreneurs, or the problem of not enough women entering
STEM programs. You see it everywhere. You see it affecting
women in midcareer, and you certainly don’t see enough women
in the boardroom.”
Cassidy saw theBoardlist as a way of addressing that diversity
issue in Silicon Valley, which prides itself on its entrepreneurial
“We need to start eating our own dog food and using technology
to solve problems like this,” she says.
Cassidy’s career success demonstrates not only that women can
both impact and thrive in Silicon Valley, but also that women in
STEM careers don’t necessarily need to have technical or scientific
backgrounds to do so. In fact, in a survey Cassidy conducted of
about 100 women tech entrepreneurs nationwide, about 16 percent
of respondents came from STEM undergraduate programs.
About 84 percent didn’t. Of those with graduate degrees, most
had MBAs, with 13 percent focusing on STEM disciplines.
“There are many leaders in Silicon Valley who are women
who don’t have technical degrees. Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook)
doesn’t have a technical degree. Susan Wojcicki from YouTube
doesn’t have a technical degree. To be a leader in the Valley is being
able to solve problems in new ways.”
She points out that having a technical degree is only one path to
leadership. “There are multiple paths to leadership here,” she says.
“There are women who are great managers. There are women
who are creative problem-solvers and can imagine new ways to
design a product. And there are women who rise through technical
ranks. All three paths are viable, and we have to start talking
about all three if we want to realize the full potential of women
in Silicon Valley.”
Regardless of what path they choose, Cassidy has two main
recommendations for women considering STEM careers today.
72 South Bay Accent
First, learn to sell a vision,” she says. “Learn to sell yourself and
Cassidy says women can be hesitant to talk about themselves
and about bold, big ideas because they would rather under-promise
and over-deliver. “But that can come back to hurt you because
you are living in a place where, every day, people are pitching big.
You have to learn to pitch a bigger vision and not be afraid of
competing and selling at that level.”
Cassidy’s second recommendation: Learn to take risks.
“It’s not always about taking some massive risk, like jumping
off this big cliff. It can instead be a smaller risk, like doing something
a little outside your comfort zone, such as public speaking,
or speaking up at a meeting,” she says. “Think about risk as a
muscle; start taking smaller risks and build the confidence to take
the bigger ones.”
Changing assumptions about leadership
AS A CHILD, Sophia Velastegui liked to solve problems, especially
technical ones. For instance, when she was in the
fifth grade, it bugged her that her family was using three
remotes to control various systems in their home. She knew there
had to be a better way.
“I said, ‘This is stupid. I think I can make one universal remote.’
So she took the remotes apart, and using duct tape and other
materials a kid might find around the house, she put the remote
circuit boards and other parts together to make a single, multifunctioning
remote—and it worked.
Velastegui was thrilled. Her parents were not.
According to a 2017 report by “They grounded me for a week!” she recalls. “They didn’t have
the United States Department
of Commerce, women
make up nearly half of the
country’s workforce, yet they
hold only about 25 percent
of the available jobs in the
fields of science, technology,
engineering and math.
at Doppler Labs
COURTESY OF SOPHIA VELASTEGUI; OPPOSITE: CHRIS AYERS, MAKEUP: ROSE HILL