Randi Zuckerberg: The Controversial Ambassador For Women In Tech
Silicon Valley has several spokeswomen, like Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg, who routinely offers up advice to young women, or Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, the first-ever pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But women in technology now have a new ambassador, whether they like it or not: Mark Zuckerberg's limelight-loving older sister, Randi.
Randi Zuckerberg was on the rise in the ad business in New York when her little bro offered her a job at his scrappy new startup. Zuckerberg soon found herself the head of marketing at one of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley. But she's always been part-insider, part-observer of that world, parodying it with her cover band Feedbomb ("Fund Me Maybe") or in homemade videos ("Valleyfreude").
And from her lofty perch at Facebook, Zuckerberg saw a strange divide: The main users of social media are women, but the main makers of it are men.
"Women are the power-users of the Web, the purchasers. They use a smart phone everyday. They're on Pinterest. They're friends with their kids on Facebook. [Marketers] don't need to talk down to them," she said in an interview with AOL Jobs. "People think it has to be a list like 'Top 10 Apps To Download For Your Baby.' It doesn't."
Zuckerberg Media's goal is to make shows for TV and the Internet with a techie angle, and a mainly female audience in mind. "Our dream is to own the wired woman from morning to night," she said. "From the morning news to the Bravo guilty pleasure in the evening."
And the Bravo guilty pleasure is her starting point, a reality show "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley" that follows six entrepreneurs as they try to make it on the gritty streets of San Francisco's upper-middle-class gay neighborhood, The Castro.
The show premieres Nov. 5, but many weeks before its airing, the trailer sparked vicious backlash, with some calling the montage of uncannily beautiful people lounging poolside and chugging champagne inaccurate, insulting and generally cringe-worthy.
Zuckerberg says that her critics are basing their judgment on a "two-minute trailer that's intentionally selected the most salacious and sexy bits." But she concedes that while she's executive producer, this is a Bravo show: Bravo held the casting call, and Bravo "knows its audience." "Silicon Valley" is scheduled to air right after "Real Housewives," in the hope of catching some of its following.
"We know we aren't authentically telling the story of every single person in Silicon Valley," Zuckerberg says. "The guy staying up all night coding -- that just doesn't make good television."
Zuckerberg Media is currently in talks with all the major networks, she says. "Online companies have a tradition of disrupting Hollywood," Zuckerberg says. "We want to work very closely with Hollywood."
And the company's next project will be a crowd-sourced wedding, where online users can vote on the flowers, music, food, dress -- you name it -- for an actual couple's wedding, streamed live on Facebook and Conde Naste's Brides.com. It'll be like the "Today" show's "Today Throws a Wedding," she says, but with a social media twist.
Zuckerberg is propelled by a feminist mission to make tech entrepreneurship more accessible and exciting to women. Others have tried to do the same, by encouraging girls to pursue math and science, creating women's networking groups, and calling out the frat boy culture of many tech companies (Facebook in its early days was a notorious culprit, but Zuckerberg refused to discuss this.)
But Zuckerberg's approach is to make Silicon Valley's public image "a little more glamorous," and let women know that they don't need math or science skills to be part of the fun.
"People think it's all just coders, a computer science-engineer-coder," Zuckerberg says. "I think people don't realize the breadth of roles they can have in Silicon Valley. You can never write a line of code and still be a very successful entrepreneur." ("There are people who like work in tech who aren't like nerdy tech people," one gorgeous woman says to another gorgeous woman in the trailer for "Start-Ups").
Some may be offended that Zuckerberg is trying to inspire women to go into tech through a dumbed-down, sexed-up reality show, which skips out most of the boring "making something" part.
writes one tech entrepreneur, "this one seems to have selected a group of people based far more on their ability to look good on camera and create drama than their ability to build the next generation of technology."
But Zuckerberg, who calls Sheryl Sandberg her "personal hero," believes in her cause. If Sandberg is a first-wave feminist of Silicon Valley (We can get a seat at the table!), and Mayer is a second-wave feminist (We can have it all!), then Randi Zuckerberg is its third wave, telling girls that they can be hotshot entrepreneurs, with killer bods to boot -- just like the lady stars of "Start-Ups."
"It was really important to have equal men and women," Zuckerberg says about the three female characters we follow, out of a total six. "So off the bat, that's not 100 percent accurate."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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