Meet The Woman Revolutionizing Genetic Testing, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki
To be Anne Wojcicki, you must start the day with a strong French pressed coffee—or, better yet, a few coffees. The 44-year-old founder and CEO of 23andMe is also the mother of two, a real estate investor and owner of kid-friendly cafe, Bumble, in Northern California. Oh, and her portfolio also includes an arts-and-crafts store, a video arcade, and indoor play space. Talk about a multi-tasker.
In addition to juggling a non-stop schedule, Wojcicki is transforming how we think about genetics and the future of health. 23andMe has given 3 million consumers information about their ancestry, carrier status, wellness and traits, as well as genetic health risk reports, authorized by the FDA. At the helm of the personal genomics company, Wojcicki spends her days in DNA at her offices in Silicon Valley rushing from meeting to meeting, as she looks for new ways to break boundaries. After all, the pressure is on 23andMe as the industry leader and the first direct-to-consumer DNA testing service with FDA-authorized health reports..
Glassdoor caught up with Wojcicki to talk about the next frontier of genetics, common DNA misconceptions, her career journey, and the advice she’d give her 20-year-old self.
Glassdoor: 23andMe is the leader in personal genetics—a way for us non-science folks to access our data. Was this the goal or an unexpected perk?
Anne Wojcicki: This was always the goal. Our mission is to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome. A huge piece of that is education, and making genetics relatable. Our scientists do a phenomenal job creating reports that are understandable for our customers and are an opportunity for them to begin learning about themselves through genetics. We also take opportunities to educate the public more broadly, for example helping create the Smithsonian’s genome exhibit which toured museums nationwide. We’ve also helped create curriculum for courses on genetics, and have put together two children’s books about genetics – the latest just debuted on Amazon last month!
Glassdoor: How is 23andMe different from the traditional DNA testing that can be done through a clinic or hospital?
Anne Wojcicki: 23andMe is different in a couple ways. First, we are not a diagnostic test. Tests done in a medical system are designed to help diagnose disease. 23andMe is a medical device that is designed to look at carrier status, wellness, physical traits and ancestry. Second, 23andMe is intentionally designed to be easy for consumers to understand. Most tests done in a clinic are designed for physicians and not consumers.
Glassdoor: 23andMe has much more on the line than say an Uber or Spotify. How do you as CEO not get overwhelmed by that responsibility?
Anne Wojcicki: I feel a responsibility to our customers to get important information out to them. I have seen over the last few years just how much this information can impact lives for the better. I am driven by the desire to have better and better health information for individuals so we can all make better decisions in our lives.
Glassdoor: What motivates you or keeps you going on the tough days at work? When the morale is low and the expectations are high, how do you motivate yourself to push forward?
Anne Wojcicki: Customer stories and the impact of what we are doing is what keeps me going when days are tough and things are not going well. I am proud of impact we are having in the world by uniting families, answering questions, and helping people take action with their health. The impact of what we are doing is top of my mind every day.
Glassdoor: You’re one of the elite group of female co-founders and CEOs. Is the landscape for female CEOs and female founders improving? What do you notice are some of the trends in the gender leadership gap?
Anne Wojcicki: What changes the landscape and improves the gender gap are supportive and vocal role models who lead by example and with proactive outreach. I am a strong believer that female role models need to tell their stories and reach out to the younger generation.
Glassdoor: How do you tackle or approach the gender pay gap? Internally, how have you sought to equal the playing field as it pertains to your staff and women employed by 23andMe?
Anne Wojcicki: I think awareness is the first step towards making sure a company doesn’t have a gender pay gap. We frequently evaluate salaries to make sure we are balanced and we continuously evaluate ourselves to make sure we have a culture that is friendly to men and women of all ethnicities and sexual orientation. I think awareness and regular intervals of reflection are key to making sure the company is making the right decisions.
Glassdoor: Any advice for how other tech companies improve equal pay in the workplace?
Anne Wojcicki: It comes from management. Management needs to be open to feedback and needs to regularly review pay to make sure they are compensating fairly.
Glassdoor: For those interested in working at 23andMe, what is the company culture like? How would you describe the work environment that you’ve led for the past few years?
Anne Wojcicki: I genuinely love coming to work every day and it’s because of the culture and the people. First and foremost we are a mission-driven company and people come to 23andMe because they believe in the work we are doing. Everyone at the company is contributing to our mission of enabling people to access, understand and benefit from the human genome. I like to think that we have a culture that is inquisitive, stimulating, fun and rewarding. I am also a firm believer in giving everyone the opportunity to grow and keep learning.
Glassdoor: Now a fun one: what was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
Anne Wojcicki: Growing up, one of my friend’s family owned a luggage shop and I often had the opportunity to help out in their store. I know a lot about luggage and pens!
Glassdoor: If you could sit down with her for a drink, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Anne Wojcicki: I would say enjoy the uncertainty and the adventure of figuring out the world and what you want to do. 20-year-olds can get away with adventure and exploration in a way 40+-year-olds can not. So enjoy asking all the questions and trying all the different jobs and realize that each new experience helps shape your views of the world and what you want to do in it.
Originally published December 2016. Updated in Janaury 2018.