Ardern/Wojcicki/Sturgeon/Sandberg: Are Women Leaders Who Leave Setting Women Back?
Issue 222 — February 20, 2023
I love this phrase from Susan Wojcicki’s letter, announcing she is stepping down as CEO of YouTube: “It’s an incredibly important time for Google — it reminds me of the early days — incredible product and technology innovation, huge opportunities, and a healthy disregard for the impossible.” (Emphasis mine)
It takes people who “have a healthy disregard for the impossible” to create new possibilities that lead to new realities.
It’s the attitude of Leadership Intentioning Tool #7: Be unreasonable.
(You’ll learn it when you join my new mastermind but more on that in a bit.)
Goodness knows, anyone who has had 25 successful years at Google and 9 as the CEO of YouTube has earned her stripes and the right to move on in her own time and intention.
But it’s hard not to feel a twinge of concern as Wojcicki’s resignation comes as part of a spate of women leaders stepping down in surprise moves. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern both gave reasons for their resignations that named the toughness of the job and not having “enough in the tank” to meet the daily challenges of high office.
It’s often said that politics is a contact sport, and a dirty one at that. Six or eight years respectively for Ardern and Sturgeon isn’t a bad tenure. But the same trend is happening in the business world, with more female leaders leaving their posts than male leaders, and many of those women being replaced by men.
Notably in big tech companies where complaints about bro culture have long been blamed for the leaky pipeline of women at all levels, Wojcicki and three top Meta women executives have left in the last two years — ads chief Carolyn Everson in 2021, COO Sheryl Sandberg late last year, and now Marne Levine, Chief Business Officer. Overall, 10.5% of women who were in top leadership positions left their jobs in 2021 compared to 9% of men, a significant difference and one that at least anecdotally seems to have only escalated since then.
Levine says she plans to prioritize family time before seeking her next chapter and Wojcicki says she plans to focus on family, health, and personal passion projects. For those of us who advocate for greater gender parity in leadership, hearing these reasons from powerful, successful women is cringe-worthy.
But maybe, just maybe, in the spirit of Take The Lead’s Power Up Conference theme last year highlighting The Big RE — that in the wake of the pandemic and social upheavals, women’s superior emotional intelligence might be driving Rethinking, Rewiring, and/or Recreating their careers in a healthy, intentional way.
One thing for sure: women aren’t stopping working. They are starting their own businesses at extraordinary rates — 48% of new businesses in 2021, up from 28% in 2019 for example. Forty percent of businesses are now women owned. Women who stay in the corporate world are demanding changes in family-related policies or choosing to work for companies that offer them. They’re saying we aren’t taking s — — anymore; we’re building a new world that appreciates us.
I’ve had the experience of realizing too late that I had missed the window that would have been ideal for me to move on from a position because I was so focused on leaving everything in perfect shape that I let myself get exhausted.
Knowing when you need to recharge your own tank and intentioning it into being might be one of the greatest measures of emotional intelligence.
Whatever Susan Wojcicki does next, I hope it’s driven by “a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Above all, I aim to see more women with that attitude in their practice of intentioning.
In this time of disruption with all its uncertainly, we must not squander anyone’s talents. We must not go backwards. Too much hangs in the balance. Women must be at the vanguard of reimagining and reconstructing a vibrant and sustainable future for us all.
That’s why I’ve turned my book Intentioning into a mastermind that I’ll teach live online starting March 23, and I’d love for you to join me.
I’m more than a little nervous. Actually I’m terrified because I’ve never taught leadership concepts that way.
But since I disrupted the language by creating the word “Intentioning,” I gave myself permission to create a new format to disrupt the boring online course model. And that is super exciting.
Here’s where you can register and find out all about how the mastermind can help you clarify your highest intention, learn the mindset to think differently as you ascend in leadership, practice the 9 Leadership Intentioning Tools in a vibrant community of women, and make a plan to turn your dreams into reality.
GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50 2022, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.