Suzan DelBene (Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
The Puget Sound is a tech hub. Microsoft has roosted in Redmond for almost three decades. Amazon.com was founded in Seattle. The wireless industry was born on the Eastside. But we do not have a woman leading a major publicly traded technology company in our region.
Compare this to Silicon Valley, where Marissa Mayer leads Yahoo and Meg Whitman leads Hewlett-Packard as chief executives. Even IBM (not California-based) has a female CEO in Virginia Rometty.
As part of my research for my Thursday column “Sheryl Sandberg, ‘Lean in,’ the gender gap in Seattle leadership,” I interviewed U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene. DelBene now represents the 1st congressional district, but she spent 12 years working at Microsoft. Her last position was corporate vice president in the company’s mobile business. She also helped start drugstore.com and served as CEO of Nimble Technology. Her husband is Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft division that makes Office.
DelBene says the company has changed, but when she first joined Microsoft the company culture was younger and far more male-dominated.
“It was a very confrontational culture. Folks were always challenging each other. If you weren’t confident and willing to stand up, that forced people to face back or not participate. Women who didn’t feel that assertive or didn’t enjoy that culture didn’t want to do that with their careers,” she said. “That limited the number of women going forward.”