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Dossier: Anne and Susan Wojcicki, the Serena and Venus of Tech

By Julissa James

Collectively, sisters Anne and Susan Wojcicki know the most private, and potentially embarrassing, details of our lives. From our weird genetic mutations to the inordinate (and probably illegal) amount of time we spend watching baby animal videos during work hours. Let’s just hope their ability to keep a secret runs as deep as their family ethos: success.

Anne, a Yale graduate, is the founder and CEO of 23andMe, a genetic testing company (valued at an estimated $2.5billion) that allows people to take a deep dive into their ancestry and health, in turn using that DNA to further scientific research. Meanwhile, Susan, who went to Harvard, spends her days navigating the needs of savvy Gen Z creators as CEO of the video platform YouTube. A subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, YouTube has grown to be valued at an estimated $160 billion under Susan’s leadership.

It’s unicorn-level rare to see siblings reach such astronomical heights in the same field. Obvious examples are Venus and Serena, Gigi and Bella, and, reluctantly, the Kardashians. But in the Bay Area, our #sistergoals remain the Wojcickis, two women who prove that we are better together — especially when together, we’re worth a bajillion dollars.

23andWojcicki

The Wojcickis’ secret literally lies in their DNA. Their mother, Esther, was profiled by the Gazette in 2019 for running an award-winning journalism program at Palo Alto High School. (“My mom is a force,” Anne said during a 2018 interview.) Their father, Stanley, is the former chair of the physics department at Stanford University, where the sisters grew up. And their middle sister, Janet, is a Fulbright scholar, anthropologist, epidemiologist and professor at U.C. San Francisco. “You’re only a viable fetus once you have your Ph.D.,” Anne joked (but not really) about her family to The New York Times.

Woe-jis-kee

Is how you pronounce what is probably the most mispronounced last name in tech. “When I was a kid, my mom had to send a note to the teacher telling her the correct way to pronounce my name,” Susan said in an AdAge confessional, echoing the annoyance of kids with difficult names across the globe. (Saoirse Ronan gets it!) It’s of Polish origin — Stanley Wojcicki fled the country in the late 1940s before landing in Silicon Valley, where he’d rear two of the most powerful women in the technology industry.

Googly Eyes

Picture it: It’s 1998, a young and strange pair of Stanford grad students named Sergey Brin and Larry Page are renting Susan’s Menlo Park garage to launch a little search engine they’re calling Google (which makes it possible for their landlord to pay her mortgage). Soon, she’d become the founders’ 16th employee, using her marketing prowess to shape the startup into the institution it is today. Later, Anne agreed to marry Brin, and the pair became the kind of aspirational, geeky Silicon Valley power couple that does things like send each other notes in Morse code. That is, until Brin royally screwed up and got involved with Google Glass marketing director Amanda Rosenberg, ultimately ending the marriage.

Werking 9 to 5

The road to becoming a media mogul and health care industry disrupter, respectively, hasn’t always been paved with lighthearted lip-synching videos and bleary-eyed family reunions. The Wojcickis have had to deal with public scrutiny, crackpot conspiracy theorists and misinformation, the Food and Drug Administration and Kara Swisher (who is actually Susan’s friend, but still asks the tough questions). Just last December, Susan was on 60 Minutes defending her platform’s policies in the face of recent controversies. Still, “at the top of the world’s largest and most volatile video platform is a calm, levelheaded person,” The New York Times said of the YouTube boss.

Best Of

Susan was ranked No. 12 on the Forbes magazine “Power Women 2019” list and No. 44 on its “America’s Self-Made Women of 2019” lineup, and she was also included in The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” last year. Anne has been named a “Top CEO of 2018” by Glassdoor and “The Pioneer” on Marie Claire’s list of “25 Women Changing the Future,” and she snagged the 33rd spot on the Forbes “Self-Made Women” roster. Sensing a pattern?

Walking the Walk

Anne has a dedicated policy at 23andMe that requires an equal number of male and female hires, resulting in an overall gender break-down of 51 percent women and 49 percent men. The company’s parental leave policy is also famously progressive, with 16 weeks of paid time off, including for LGBTQ and adoptive parents. Over at YouTube, Susan says she’s been really focused on bringing more women, people of color and underrepresented minorities into her management structure. When she became CEO in 2014, the number of women in director-level positions was at 15 percent. As of 2019, it doubled to 30 percent. Bro-based tech companies: Take note. Take a seminar. Take something.

Sharing the Wealth

Anne is one of the sponsors of the Breakthrough Prize, Silicon Valley’s glitziest night of the year — aka the “Oscars of Science” — which honors scientists making major strides in their field with $3 million gifts. In 2019, it awarded $21 million overall. Susan is no stranger to philanthropy: Last year, along with Elon Musk, she donated $200,000 to the YouTube collective Team Trees, which aims to plant 200 trees by this year. Together, the sisters have also raised funds for the nonprofit Room to Read, which is dedicated to gender equity in education.

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