Priscilla Chan: Will The First Lady Of Tech Please Speak Up?


*This post of mine is also published on The Huffington Post.*

Mark Zuckerberg and I are best friends. Well, at least that is what I would like to believe by the number of times he has been appearing on my Facebook newsfeed lately. Mixed in with my real life friends’ baby announcements, professional milestones, and kids’ birthday party pictures is news of Zuckerberg’s new charity initiative, photos of Zuckerberg snuggling with his new baby girl, and even Hanukah wishes from his dog, “Beast.”

We have also been seeing Zuckerberg’s better half, pediatrician and philanthropist, Priscilla Chan appear more and more in her husband’s posts which of late largely center around the couple’s new baby and of course, the couple’s joint LLC the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a $45 billion dollar charity.

However, the more I see Mark Zuckerberg appear on my social media feed, posing lovingly with his wife and baby, I just cannot help but be bothered by the fact that it is Zuckerberg’s voice we hear consistently. He is the one that is speaking for his family. Even the tragic news of Priscilla’s miscarriage over the summer was delivered to the public by Zuckerberg.


It is understandable to an extent. Zuckerberg is the more globally recognized of the two and probably has more experience with dealing with press. Maybe his Mrs. even prefers it that way.

But given Silicon’s Valley’s notorious gender problem, how the third richest man in tech presents his private life for the public to consume matters, and in many ways speaks to the larger issue of male dominance in Silicon Valley.

Despite women from Elizabeth Holmes to Angela Ahrendts to Safra Katz to Susan Wojcicki shattering the tech world’s glass ceiling, the numbers show us that the valley is still very much a man’s world.


Tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, Twitter and even Facebook to name a few have abysmal numbers when it comes to their female employees: 82 percent of Google’s tech employees, 87 percent of Twitter’s, 84 percent of Facebook’s, and 79 percent of Apple’s tech employees are men.

And for those of us who want to believe the valley’s women problem is getting better, we can thank Michael Moritz, chairman of venture capital firm Sequoia Capital for giving us a reality check. The ‘bastion’ of Silicon Valley blamed the gender gap at his own firm on a lack of qualified women, stating the firm was not prepared to lower their standards.

“I hate to say it, but I wasn’t surprised,” Trinity Ventures Partner, Indian-born Anjula Acharia Bath tells me. “Let’s be clear; this problem is bigger than any one person or one fund. This idea that we have to lower our standards in the Valley to fill some sort of diversity quota has been around for a long time and, sadly, it’s prevalent across the venture industry. It’s an excuse, really one that many of our leaders in the VC world point to. We can yell pipeline issues all we want, but we can’t ignore that it’s also related to a retention issue. If you keep telling women that they are the problem, that our industry works against them, why would women want to step into this world at all? I truly hope women who read or hear comments like that don’t get discouraged. Instead, we have to get motivated and push back. We should change this perception.”


Acharia Bath states that despite the industry being “heavily weighted against us” as a female entrepreneur, angel investor and a woman working in the VC industry herself, she never focuses on the obstacles. “We need to encourage the mentorship of women who are taking this path,” she stipulates.

And that is exactly where Priscilla Chan comes in. Women in the tech world need all the support they can get, and Chan is uniquely positioned to dramatically alter the gender gap in Silicon Valley.

“Putting Priscilla Chan’s name front and center on the LLC sends a very public message, although it is, frankly, difficult to know what that message is,” feminist writer and cultural critic, Soraya Chemaly explains. “Silicon Valley is fundamentally conservative when it comes to gender and gender roles. To date, most articles about, and rare interviews with, her have had a soft-pedaled feel, like those of new First Lady. Lots about pets, clothes, possible and now real, kids. It will be interesting to see if it yields a more public role.”


As the de facto First Lady of the tech, Chan should seize this opportunity in front of her. Her impact on Silicon Valley could be as great as Microsoft Founder, Bill Gate’s spouse, Melinda Gates, who came out of her husband’s shadow to become one of the most powerful women in global health philanthropy.

Chan could do for women in Silicon Valley what Gates has done for women’s health and rights around the world. Imagine if Chan took up the cause of encouraging more girls to study Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) and calling out the tech world’s culture of sexism to make more room for women?

Of course the decision at the end of the day is completely up to Chan. While it is amazing to give away so much of your personal wealth as a powerful message to their newborn daughter, would it not be an even greater gift for a mother to demonstrate that there is no such thing as a man’s world, especially in the tech world where her parents reign?

After all, having a charity in the honor of your birth is great, but a revolution is even better.

*This post of mine is also published on The Huffington Post.*

Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link