Hitting the gold ceiling

Why aren't young female entrepreneurs making it into the upper echelons of Silicon Valley wealth?

By Janelle Brown
September 9, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
main article image

When Carly Fiorina was fingered in July as the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard, she blithely blew off the reporters that called her appointment a victory for women. "I hope that we are at a point that everyone has figured out that there is not a glass ceiling," Fiorina explained at the time. "My gender is interesting, but really not the subject of the story here."

Perhaps Fiorina, 44, should take a look at some of the latest statistics to come out of Silicon Valley, like America's Richest 40 Under 40, a chart accompanying "The Young and the Loaded," the latest Fortune cover story about technology wealth. Despite Fiorina's belief that gender is irrelevant and the frequently heard assertion that the Internet evens out the playing field for female entrepreneurs, the list of the wealthiest young executives in America includes not a single woman.


The list, which is primarily made up of technology executives (although it includes a smattering of other richies, like sports star Michael Jordan and Master P of No Limit Records), begins with Gregory Reyes, the 37-year-old CEO of Brocade Communications, whose net worth hovers around $243 million, and tops out with Michael Dell, the 34-year-old CEO of Dell Computer, who is worth a cool $21.49 billion. The youngest on the list is Paul Gauthier, CTO of Inktomi, who has accumulated $418 million at the tender age of 26; the oldest executives are 39.

Clearly, the wealthiest young executives are riding on their stock market valuations, rather than actual cash in the bank. But it still bodes badly for the role of women in the industry. Despite the fact that increasing numbers of young women are starting up their own companies and landing the title of CEO, those companies are not the ones valued by the stock market and the venture capitalists who bankroll those start-ups into the moneyed limelight.

In fact, the wealthiest women in the technology industry -- women like Meg Whitman, who was granted a fortune in eBay stock as its CEO, and Carly Fiorina herself -- are over 40, and have spent years working their way up the executive ladders. And even they aren't nearly as well compensated as their male counterparts, according to a recent San Jose Mercury News report.


"It's another indication that women are just not making it to the top -- and they're not only not making it to the top in terms of title, but in terms of top-dollar packages," says Carolyn Leighton, chairwoman and founder of Women in Technology International, a nonprofit whose aim is to promote female entrepreneurship. "I hope this makes enough of us angry that we say we aren't going to take a lesser package anymore, we're going to negotiate what we deserve."

Wealth isn't everything, of course, but it's certainly an indicator of who's being taken seriously by the business world -- and who's not. The ceiling Fiorina has dismissed is, perhaps, not made of glass at all, but of crisp green bills.

Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Janelle Brown

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Carly Fiorina Meg Whitman