Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Room To Read
Silicon Valley leaders Susan and Anne Wojcicki know the power of sisterhood, and they want to see that power extended to helping girls around the world.
The sisters spoke at a Thursday benefit in San Francisco for nonprofit Room to Read, which helps children in low-income communities by promoting literacy and gender equality in education.
“As her youngest sister, [Susan] has always blessed me with her time,” said Anne, who is co-founder and CEO of 23andMe. “She spends her time dedicated to the family, to her five kids and then to organizations like this.”
Susan, who is CEO of YouTube, is a board member of Room to Read. The organization says it’s helped more than 16 million children in 30,000 communities worldwide.
Thursday’s event, which raised money for young women in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program, was also held on International Day of the Girl. The United Nations established the holiday in 2011 to address the challenges girls face when it comes to education and employment, and to promote their rights.
“I’m here on Day of the Girl and I’m a board member of Room to Read because I want to be a sister to all those people out there that really need our help,” Susan said.
Gender disparity in education remains prevalent in many areas of the world. Nearly 16 million girls ages 6 to 11 won’t have the opportunity to go to school, compared to 8 million boys, according to UNESCO. In addition, two thirds of the 750 million adults who are illiterate are women.
“We know that when girls are educated, they can live a much better life,” Susan said. “They can be healthier, they can participate in the labor system, they can have higher income so they can take care of their children better. As the mother of five kids, I can’t image what it would be like to take care of my kids and have to navigate all the challenges without being able to read.”
The sisters have spoken openly about Silicon Valley’s diversity problem. Anne has said all companies should hire one woman for every man, including across managing positions.
Last year, Susan shared her own struggles as a woman in tech after a Google employee wrote a controversial memo arguing that women are underrepresented in tech because of biology and not as a result of bias and discrimination.
“I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned,” Susan wrote. “I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.”
YouTube personality and entertainer Lilly Singh also attended Thursday’s event. Singh is creator of the #GirlLove initiative, which promotes female empowerment. She’s also helped raise funds for girls’ education.
“I was raised in a time and place when I was told Indian girls shouldn’t speak up,” Singh said. “When there wasn’t a seat for me at the table, I made a seat for myself at the table, and I created a space for myself. But I also know that I had so many opportunities. I had an education, I had supportive parents and a supportive community to help me with that. But not everyone has that.”
Earlier this year, YouTube teamed up with creators on its platform to raise awareness about girls’ education through public service announcement-style videos. Singh was the first creator to make one of these videos, Susan said.
“We can educate more girls,” Susan said. “We can be good sisters to all of those girls out there that need it.”
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