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The 26%: Facebook's Mary Lou Jepsen Says Tech Is Hostile to Women (Video)

Why do so many senior women leave tech?

Tyler Pina for Re/code

Technology veteran Mary Lou Jepsen, executive director of engineering at Facebook and co-founder of One Laptop Per Child, believes her industry is hostile to women.

“You see very senior women leaving technology and the men stay, mostly because they feel quite isolated and are isolated by the very systems,” she said during an interview in her lab on Facebook’s campus, where she relocated after departing Google X earlier this year. Jepsen now leads the display group at virtual reality headset maker Oculus, which Facebook acquired last year.

When asked if she ever considered leaving the sector because of the challenges women face, Jepsen replied, “I mean, I left Google X. All the senior women have left Google X. I was the last to make it — I was, to be fair, the last there. Megan Smith* left, Claire Hughes Johnson, vice presidents at Google left. There was a reason for that.”

Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne provided the following statement, which refers to Google X head Astro Teller: “Astro’s leadership team is 50 percent women, most of whom have been at Google and in technology for many years. Since the start of Google[x], we’ve made it a priority to build teams with people from many backgrounds and perspectives, since that’s what’s necessary to tackle some of the world’s hardest problems from radically new perspectives.”

The Mountain View search giant has acknowledged in the past that the company isn’t diverse enough — only 30 percent of workers are women and 2 percent are black — and has set up programs to improve the numbers, including allowing employees to spend 20 percent of their time on diversity projects.

Johnson, now head of business operations at Stripe, declined through a spokeswoman to comment about the quote; the spokeswoman referred Re/code to an earlier statement about Johnson’s reasons for leaving Google at the time.

“When I joined Google, it was a 1,500-person company, which I thought was huge, since I don’t think of myself as a corporate person,” she said.

“It’s exciting to be able to be part of the block and tackle of building a company from a smaller base … and this company has a vision that is different and has huge potential.”

Smith, who departed Google to become chief technology officer in the Obama Administration, didn’t respond to an inquiry before press time.

Jepsen’s role at Facebook is to push the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality.

She is widely considered one of the foremost experts in display technologies, founding four startups in the field and earning her master’s degree at MIT for co-developing an early holographic video system. She has written more than 100 scientific papers and her name appears on more than 100 patents. In recent years, she has explored the ability of computers to read images from our brains (see her TED talk on the subject here).

In the video above, the fifth and final episode of “The 26%: Women Speak Out On Tech’s Diversity Crisis,” Jepsen discusses what it’s like to be an executive woman in tech, how to persevere when you hear the word “impossible” and what companies can do to achieve their diversity goals.

Update: This story was updated to include a statement from Google.

Read all the stories in “The 26%” series:

[display-posts tag=”26percent” posts_per_page=”20″]

* Megan Smith is married to but separated from Re/code Executive Editor Kara Swisher. For more details, please see Swisher’s ethics statement here.

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