YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki: Here's what to say when men are talking over you at a meeting

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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has worked in the tech industry for more than 20 years, but she says she still feels she has to go the extra mile to get the respect and attention she deserves.

“I feel like I’ve been supported. For the most part,” Wojcicki told The Guardian in a recent interview. “But a lot of times there are micro-aggressions that people aren’t always aware of and that can have a cumulative effect.”

She says when people talk over her or ignore her ideas in a meeting, she calls them out, on the spot.

“Or I’ll find a way to get people to really listen,” she says. “What I find is, you can’t say comments in a timid, unsure way – no one’s going to listen to you and no one’s going to take you seriously. You have to be able to state your opinion in a way that is confident.”

Her advice to others stuck in this situation is to take a very direct approach. “You have to say something like: ‘No, I completely disagree with your point of view, you’re going in the wrong direction. Let me tell you what I think is the right step for the future.’ And then you’ve opened the door and people are paying attention.”

Wojcicki is one of very few women at the executive level of a tech company. At Apple, Twitter and Facebook, women make up 29%, 36.7% and 32.6% of leadership positions, respectively. The percentages of women in tech-specific roles are even lower - below 25% at all three companies.

“If you look at the pipeline of women graduating with computer science degrees, it’s a much smaller number [than men],” says Wojcicki, who was Google’s 16th employee. “In the U.S., about 20% are women. That just means that, when you get started, there is a smaller pool of women who have those capabilities.”

When women join an organization where they are the first or only in their position, she says, they face the extra challenge of not having a network of support. She emphasizes that it’s important for tech companies to do all they can to recruit, retain and promote women who are graduating with tech degrees because “then younger women understand that they can also achieve these leadership roles.”

Since taking on the CEO role in 2014, Wojcicki says she has increased the number of female staffers at her company from a quarter to a third, and that includes women in leadership positions. Though YouTube still has a long way to go, Wojcicki explained at Forbes’ BoardForward Awards event last year, that the key to making progress is having leaders in tech who firmly believe that diversity should be a priority.

“It has to come from the top,” she said. “You have to have the leader say this is important, and it’s the right thing for the company - and really mean it.”