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New Valley girls (pg. 2)

By Patricia Sellers, editor at large
Last Updated: January 26, 2009: 11:27 AM ET

It's probably not just a coincidence that many of these independent tech- and science-inclined women are daughters of doctors. That is true of VCs Lee and Vassallo and three of the four women in the photo that opens this story. (Bianchini is the exception.) Says Google's Cassidy, whose parents are both doctors: "My father drummed into me that I should work for myself and control my own destiny." Anne Wojcicki, 35, wasn't raised by a doctor but wanted to be one: "There's nothing more raw in life than when you're sick." After a first career as a hedge fund analyst, Wojcicki, who is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, took the MCAT but then shifted gears again and teamed up with biotech veteran Linda Avey to start 23andMe, a personal genetics company. Their "spit parties," where participants produce DNA specimens by spitting, have garnered headlines. (Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller recently hosted one in New York City.) One day they hope the information they collect can help doctors, researchers, and consumers, who currently have no genetic database. "Larry used to yell at me," she says, referring to Brin's partner at Google. "He kept saying, 'If you think there's a problem, fix it.' It was a good kick in the butt."

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Broadly speaking, this new generation doesn't pretend to have it all figured out. They're remarkably open about their anxieties, shortcomings, and struggles. Anne Wojcicki says she turned to Sandberg because she was clueless about how to use Google's ad services. "I'm married to Sergey, and I don't know how they work," she admits. She ended up picking Sandberg's brain about much larger questions. "I told Sheryl, 'I don't know how to grow the company,' and she gave me advice." Like? "She said, 'Only start programs that will scale. For example, don't give cakes to employees for their birthday, because that won't work when you have 1,000 people in the company.'"

Another perennially hot topic? How to behave at work in an era where displays of female power are more scrutinized than ever (see Palin, Sarah). Google's Marissa Mayer, who at 33 is the youngest woman ever to make Fortune's Most Powerful list, tells a story about one of her underlings who pushed her idea hard at a meeting by telling the group how passionately she cared. "She went emotional," says Mayer, who called her that evening as she drove home from work. "I told her, 'If you were a guy, I probably would have waited until Monday morning to tell you. But you can't behave that way.'"

Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, who until this summer was the only woman partner at Accel Partners, says that she's been advised to behave more aggressively. "You can imagine Monday morning meetings," she says of the partner gatherings at her VC firm. "Nine guys, all used to being in charge. I'm absolutely conscious about speaking up more frequently and interrupting people - even though we were taught not to interrupt. Damn it, I'll repeat myself! I'll say it louder! I'll lean forward in my chair." On the flip side, Ranzetta, 40, also sits on the boards of eight startups plus the Corp. of Brown University, where she's an alum. In those meetings, where her role is advisor instead of partner, she shows her feminine side-her real self, she says. "Having a more female style works there. You're playing more to the male ego. Though that doesn't mean that I won't take the men on." eBay North America boss Tilenius says she has softened her approach since her general counsel told her he thought of her as wearing a "gladiator suit" at work.

Leadership style is something that has surely been on Sandberg's mind lately. As she's made changes at Facebook, she's been swiped in the blogosphere for wielding almighty power. At a company Q&A session recently, Zuckerberg says, an employee raised his hand and said, "I hear that Sheryl Sandberg is responsible for melting the polar icecaps." "That stuff is far out," he says, adding that he supports her completely. Facebook director Breyer, who is also on the board of Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), has told Sandberg that he's seen such flak before and advised her to "keep your head down and do as many of the right things as possible." He says, "She has incredibly tough skin." Not to mention a network of 1,114 friends. To top of page

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